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October 2006

Jason Kao Hwang
Edge
AsianImprov Records

Of the handful of semi-well-known jazz violinists out there (and let’s face it, even the best jazz violinists are, at most, semi-well-known), Jason Kao Hwang has long been one of my favorites. He is, along with Billy Bang and Charles Burnham, one of earthiest of the bunch. This disc showcases equally Hwang’s skills as a composer and improviser. Both aspects combine his distinctive fusion of the artful and the rustic.

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Jason Kao Hwang's Edge (L to R): Andrew Drury, Hwang, Taylor Ho Bynum, Ken Filiano

Compositionally, Hwang mixes and matches written passages with unaccompanied improvisation and solos-with-rhythm. The sections do not typically run together; one is clearly differentiated from the next, yet they cohere well enough. Joining him are trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Andrew Drury. The jazz world ignores Filiano to its discredit. He’s one of the finest jazz bassists, period. The mercurial Bynum gets better every time I hear him, and Drury is a receptive, agile percussionist.

As an improviser, Hwang projects an almost naïve sense of vulnerability—a quality that abruptly disappears whenever he’s compelled to assert his mastery by letting loose his colossal chops. Hwang might have hit the jazz violinist’s glass ceiling, but he’s a monster, nevertheless. This is a compelling example of his work.

Originally published in October 2006
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