by Mike Heffley
Signal to Noise
September 30, 2007
Both the locale and the ling-go of Local Lingo come across as translocal and translingual when heard as the latest words of the tale composer-violinist Jason Kao Hwangs been telling in his previous CDs, and the voice hes been training to tell it.
A musical local lingo is not as easy to construct and speak, let alone wax profound and elegant in, as the cool flip of the title might suggest. This ones been cooking up for going on a couple of decades now, and Hwangs recordings have connected the dots of its arc precisely.
His 1994 Caverns (New World Records), one of two by the Far East Side Band (a trio adding percussionist Yukio Tsuji to this duo) was more elaborately arrayed with obviously Asian-ethnic folk-traditional sounds, instruments, inflections, effectsidentity markers. His 2005 chamber opera The Floating Box (New World Records) showcased the opposite ends of the aesthetic-cultural spectrummastery of Western composition and performance conventions, joined with their high-cultural Chinese counterparts (in erhu and pipa, silk and bamboo more than folk percussion and winds). Most recently, his Edge (Asian Improv Records, 2006) highlights his music in the context of a more jazz-rooted quartet. Ethnicity, culture, and genre, Hwang writes in Edges liner notes, are the three areas his work bordersand these CDs foregrounded each in turn.
Local Lingo offers something new, to which the above are prefatory (some of the same players and material), necessary but not sufficient. Tell a musician to just play whatever he or she feels like, and the sounds his/her body puts behind linguistic meaning-matrix as tone of voice come forth, magnified. Throw in the influence of a language that itself grafts those tones into that matrixsuch as Asian languages do and Western ones do notand the music just played magnifies them exponentially (check out John Szweds typically perspicacious liner notes about this). Then what you hear means as much as it feels. If, of course, you know its local lingo.
This new conversation is one stripped bare to the essence of the others, where the two musical voices embody fully and personally what the above arrays of markers only suggested, by comparison. Here speak the deep roots (in Park) to the sweet fruits (in Hwang) of the bowed and plucked string boxs trees growings through time and place.
The first notes (Listen) set the tone of the whole CD: a relaxed float of thoughtful melody and melancholy (Hwangs, his violins), roughed up by Parks Korean zithers (6-string ajeng, bowed with a resined stick, and 12-string kayagum, plucked). Hwang visits the roughness, and Park the sweetness, in the give-and-take of rich textures and sliding pitches exchanged. Ari Rangthe one non-Hwang pieceis a traditional Korean folk song Park sings while plucking the kayagum like a highstrung bass with raised frets (to get those Asian bends), alongside Hwangs American bluesy-country mirror of the same roots-rural spirit.
Local Lingo lingers as you go about your business with it sounding, and after. Its presence soothes rather than irritates or bores; unlike much music, you want to carry, not shake, its echo.