Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

This is the 1st of your 3 free articles

Become a member for unlimited website access and more.

FREE TRIAL Available!

Learn More

Already a member? Sign in to continue reading

Karl Berger/Jason Kao Hwang: Conjure (True Sound)

A review of the album from the pianist/vibraphonist and violinist/violist

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.
Karl Berger/Jason Kao Hwang, Congjure
The cover of Conjure from Karl Berger/Jason Kao Hwang

While there is solid justification for the genre police to tag this music as free jazz or pure improvisation, that act of classification would ultimately be a waste of time. This is simply an instance of two people enjoying each other’s company, calling to spirits through sound, and revealing themselves through their art. Nothing more and nothing less. Labels need not be applied.

With an absence of musical planning, not a scrap of written material on hand, and no routines to fall back on, pianist/vibraphonist Karl Berger and violinist/violist Jason Kao Hwang got together and agreed to let open minds carry the day. They wandered and pondered, creating music that’s unburdened by structural norms and mildly disquieting in nature. Some pieces they produced draw on specific forms of maneuvering—“Prophecy” with Hwang’s gradational arco violin adjustments and Berger’s piano runes, “Below Zero” with Berger’s seesawing vibraphone and Hwang’s skulking pizzicato work—but most seem to avoid reliance on singular communicative tools and settings. This duo typically thrives on uncertainty while exploring a variety of textural subtleties.

Since abstraction and atonality rule this session, it can be difficult for the ears to find something to really latch onto. That makes the appearance of footholds or markers significant. Hwang’s chirping harmonics toward the end of “Silhouettes,” the duo’s grooving dalliance in the far reaches of “Beyond Reach,” and Berger’s stabilizing vibraphone motif at the midpoint of the lengthy “Water Finds Water” all qualify as head-turning moments or clarifying gestures. The majority of this recording, however, is shrouded in mystery. Conjuring clearly remains an arcane art.

Preview or download Conjure on Amazon!


Are you a musician or jazz enthusiast? Sign up for our weekly newsletter, full of reviews, profiles and more!

Dan Bilawsky

Dan Bilawsky has been involved in jazz journalism for 15 years. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, JAZZed, and All About Jazz, among other outlets. In addition, he’s penned liner notes for artists on Red, Capri, HighNote/Savant, Ropeadope, and other respected imprints. A band director with 20 years of teaching experience, he holds degrees in music from Indiana University, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and Five Towns College.