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May 2008

Jason Kao Hwang/Edge
Stories Before Within
Innova Recordings

Composer first, violinist second. That’s how Jason Kao Hwang lists his duties on the back cover of his latest album, Stories Before Within. It’s a hierarchy that says a lot about the music that is played by Hwang’s band Edge. The quartet—which features cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, drummer Andrew Drury and bassist Ken Filiano—follows its leader through five tightly composed tracks, seldom engaging in the kind of free-for-all improvising that you might expect from an outré jazz outfit. In this case, the band establishes its avant-garde bona fides with a mixture of Far East folk melodies and a group sound that evokes Ornette Coleman’s classic quartet.

Like the guy with the white plastic alto, Hwang has an edge to his sound (no pun intended) that can sometimes be a bit much. He is, at times, more mellifluous than angular, but—let’s put it this way—Hwang never fades into the background. Speaking of which, the rest of the band is quite impressive. Bynum is a master tightrope walker, always navigating a tuneful path between chaos and order. When he and the rhythm section get away from the composed portions of the opener “Cloud Call,” the improvisations crackle with the kind of energy that you might expect from musicians who play as if anything were possible. To Hwang’s credit, they lose none of this spirit when the composer leads them back into more certain terrain.

Originally published in May 2008
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