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Jazz with an Edge

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Jason Kao Hwang and Edge will perform on February 25 at Alternative Books in Kingston. (Image provided)
  • Jason Kao Hwang and Edge will perform on February 25 at Alternative Books in Kingston. (Image provided)
Jason Kao Hwang’s quartet is called EDGE, with good reason. If you are already on the edge, consider yourself tipped over. Avant-jazz isn’t really for the casual listener (or the mentally unstable or the faint of heart, for that matter), and if you’re wanting to take a roller-coaster ride to the madhouse, look no further. Of course, the ardent jazz devotee will think he or she has died and gone straight to heaven.

In the late 1990s, violinist/composer Hwang was commissioned by Asia Society, Music from China, and the Museum of Chinese in the Americas to write a chamber opera, The Floating Box: A Story in Chinatown, and the recording was later named one of the top ten opera CDs by Opera News. Hwang sites this experience as what fueled the creation of EDGE. “The creative process took about eight years,” he says. “The intense experience of creating a 70-minute opera infused my compositions for the improvisations of EDGE with new ideas. The creativity of the musicians in the band—Taylor Ho Bynum (coronet, flugelhorn), Andrew Drury (drum kit), and Ken Filiano (string bass)—have highly individual, strong instrumental voices, very inspirational. Because they are also composers, they bring tremendous insights and intuitions to rehearsal, developing the music to higher incarnations, accompanied by zany humor.”

Released on Asian Improv Records, the four lengthy tracks on the unit’s self-titled debut could hardly be considered Eastern. The 12-and-a-half-minute “No Myth” is aggressive and dramatic, the players keeping the movement tight throughout. “Threads,” clocking at nearly 10 minutes, slows the pace for awhile, then breaks into psychological intensity. “Parallel Meditations” is no less ferocious, but gives way to the closing lament of “Grassy Hills.”

Hwang began violin lessons at age eight, though he admits to being primarily self-taught. He learned orchestration and composition from self-study and writing for independent films. While attending college in New York City, he discovered a cultural center in Chinatown where he became a regular at jazz jams, and got involved with the loft scene.

“The music of improvisation was multicultural,” he says, “essentially inclusive, a location where my violin could develop into my voice, fulfilling the ideals of the Asian-American movement with the full force of individualism. Emotions, history, ethnicity, and the multiplicity of elements words cannot apprehend interact as a vast, organic universe, defining our identity, and manifest within the vibrations of music, to the extent one’s artistry allows. We strive for higher levels of artistry to liberate these vibrations that are a life force. These vibrations are shared, resonating with both musicians and audience because of the natural exchange of energies during a concert, and the mutual empathic response that ensues.”

Jason Kao Hwang and EDGE will record a second CD in March and will play new music from that endeavor at Deep Listening Institute’s New Vanguard series on February 25 at 3pm at Alternative Books in Kingston. (845) 338-5984; www.deeplistening.org.

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