Jason Kao Hwang​/​EDGE, Stories Before Within (2008)

by Jason Kao Hwang

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Jason Kao Hwang – composer/ violin, viola
Taylor Ho Bynum – cornet, flugelhorn
Andrew Drury – drum set
Ken Filiano - string bass

This is the second of the three EDGE CDs released.

EDGE (AsianImprov, 2006)
Stories Before Within (Innova, 2007)
Crossroads Unseen (Euonymus, 2011)

Liner Notes:

As he prepared this new release by Edge, violinist-composer Jason Kao Hwang was thinking about storytelling. In fact, the album’s title alludes to two directions in which stories move—forward through time and inward psychologically. Both aspects of storytelling are most important to Jason’s music. “Every musician has a certain essence, it’s the animating force in their sound,” he says. “We experience that essence as a vertical phenomenon, it’s timeless and it’s deep. Music, on the other hand, is linear; we experience it horizontally, in time. The compositions on Stories Before Within are narratives that progress forward in time with an awareness of what has come before. They also journey within, through the infinite dimensions of emotion.”

Jason’s compositions create plots as they move from one theme or section to another. They form a kind of temporal architecture, stories which shape and order experience. “What is on paper is a crystallization of what the music has to say,” Jason says. “The composed notes which determine rhythmic and harmonic relationships create chapters of a story by setting up different fields of vibration.”

Jason’s compositions set up their chapters, their different vibrational fields, with uncommon elegance. There’s a sureness of design, an inner logic that makes each new event seem inevitable, yet also to some degree surprising. “Third Sight,” for instance, opens with a folksong like melody that bears a close spiritual kinship to the blues, then jump cuts into a swinging mid-tempo episode in which Jason and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum duet. This conversational interlude delivers us into soliloquies, first for bassist Ken Filiano, then for drummer Andrew Drury, before the reprise of the second and first themes. It’s a neat story arc that showcases the entire cast of characters in the band. The lovely melody of “Embers” runs through the entire performance of the piece, while the soloists spin their own variants of this central narrative. Contrasting thematic elements are nicely balanced in “Cloud Call,” for which Jason plays lead, supported by lines and riffs that he scored for the rest of the band. “It was written in my youth, when I lacked the skills to develop it,” Jason says. “I re-worked the original composition and brought it to Edge to fulfill its initial promise.”

The predetermined elements of the composition also function to launch improvisational development. “The composition draws the improviser forward into a place in which they reveal their essence,” Jason elaborates. “We hear each individual musician spontaneously respond to the vibration field that illuminates what the heart searches for. Improvisation discovers and reveals another universe.”

The musicians in Edge are well attuned to the settings Jason prepares for them. After three years together, Jason says they’ve all become closer friends, and this closeness is reflected in the music. They are not only a band of friends, but a band of vivid personalities as well. Each member is a dauntless searcher and engaging storyteller in their own right. Bynum’s irrepressible spirit enlivens the album with playful explorations of sounds, textures, and rhythms. Filiano can play his bass as if it were an entire string orchestra or pluck spare lines that mesh with both soloists and ensemble passages. Drury orchestrates sounds, silence, color, and rhythm to function within the ensembles as either an equal participant or as timekeeper.

Jason himself has one of the music’s most immediately recognizable voices, a synthesis of Chinese influences, elements of contemporary classical and avant-garde jazz that has no precedent in this kind of music. Every note he plays is a cry from the heart, full of longing and compassion, and guided by a keen intellect. He is a storyteller of tremendous power.

Ed Hazell


released February 5, 2008

All Compositions by Jason Kao Hwang. Flying Panda Music, BMI 2007

Recorded on April 5th & 6th, 2007 at the Studio, New York City, New York
Executive Producer: Philip Blackburn, Innova Records
Producer: Jason Kao Hwang
Recording Engineer: Jon Rosenberg
Assistant Recording Engineer: Eije Takasuga
Mixing Engineer: Jason Kao Hwang
Mastering Engineer: Paul Zinman, SoundByte Productions, Inc.
Liner Notes: Ed Hazell
Design: Philip Blackburn
Cover photography: Jason Kao Hwang
Photograph of the band: Jon Rosenberg

Supported in part by a grant from the New York State Music Fund, established by the New York State Attorney General at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.



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Jason Kao Hwang Morris Plains, New Jersey

Jason Kao Hwang (composer/violin/viola) recently released Sing House and VOICE. In 2012, NPR selected Burning Bridge as one of the year’s Top CDS and the Downbeat Critics’ Poll voted him “Rising Star for Violin.” In 2011 and 2012 the El Intruso Critic's poll voted him #1 for Violin/Viola. Mr. Hwang has worked with Pauline Oliveros, Wadada Leo Smith, William Parker, Anthony Braxton, and others. ... more

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