I thought Jason Kao Hwang has had a “little bit of crazy in him” since 2008’s Stories Before Within. That was when I first came in contact with his work in EDGE, a slightly maddening ensemble that includes Hwang on violin and viola, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn, Andrew Drury on drums, and Ken Filiano on bass.
The follow-up to Stories is Crossroads Unseen.
Hwang continues to flirt with the lines, although there is more structure to help fence in the madness. Intuition plays a major role in keeping the players on the same page, as they bound around various arrangements seemingly by sense alone. It wouldn’t surprise me if Hwang had everyone play in the dark, to be honest.
Lest you think I’m knocking EDGE for having no sense of direction, I’m not. There’s always been something jubilant about Hwang, at least as far as I’m concerned, and Crossroads Unseen is no different.
The album earns it from the get-go, opening with “Elemental Determination.” This is a piece that lets Filiano beat the living tar out of his bass while Byum’s flugelhorn goes for a deceptively chaotic walk. Drury finds the groove.
In the liner notes, Hwang refers to America’s “melting pot” culture of assimilation and how he attempted, after only being taught English, to glean what he could from listening to his parents speak Chinese in the home. Listening to Crossroads Unseen is kind of like that, I think, with each passing splinter of musical dialogue, like the meditative thrusts found on the title track, revealing new knowledge.
Hwang’s work with EDGE falls directly in the avant-garde box and is comfortable sharing space with other musicians who spot a sonic border and immediately think “Escape!”
Article originally published as part of Music Reviews: Jason Kao Hwang, Spontaneous River, EDGE, and Macy Chen at Blogcritics.org