Jason Kao Hwang isn’t the only violinist using his instrument in a context that relies equally on free improvisation and composition. But Sing House amply demonstrates the singular blend of passion and control he brings to the intersection. He’s capable of attacking his instrument in a visceral manner akin to free-jazz horn players, but even when he plays in the upper register he never punctuates his solos with nails-on-the-chalkboard scrapes or squeals, preferring to keep the sound clear and crisp. That same sense of equilibrium applies to his writing, with its spaces for exciting group improvisation.
Sing House thrives on the longstanding rapport among the group members. Drummer Andrew Drury and bassist Ken Filiano have played with Hwang in several other projects, some of which have included trombonist Steve Swell. Pianist Chris Forbes has worked in duos with Hwang as well as in bands led by Swell. “No Such Thing” begins the album with a brief written phrase, before shifting into unhinged energy that gives all the players equal say. After some blasts from Swell and wild bowing from the leader, Drury’s multidirectional drumming cues a relatively languid line built in the low register of the piano. Even then, the mood continually changes shape. “When What Could,” featuring Hwang on viola, begins slower, with pregnant pauses that evoke a new-music ensemble. Before long, though, the quintet springs into action; the leader plays double time over the rhythm section, and Filiano offers his strongest solo of the set. Sing House might rely heavily on free blowing, yet within the four works Hwang packs concise pieces of writing that present new discoveries with each listen.