Local Lingo (2006)

by Jason Kao Hwang, Sang-Won Park

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Both the locale and the ling-go of Local Lingo come across as translocal and translingual when heard as the latest words of the tale composer-violinist Jason Kao Hwang’s been telling in his previous CDs, and the voice he’s been training to tell it… This new conversation is one stripped bare to the essence of the others, where the two musical voices embody fully and personally what the above arrays of markers only suggested, by comparison. Here speak the deep roots (in Park) to the sweet fruits (in Hwang) of the bowed and plucked string box’s tree’s growings through time and place.
- Mike Heffley, Signal to Noise, 2007

Both of these men are great soloists and love to push themselves into unexpected situations…This duo blended ancient (sounding) songs with more modern improvisations and created something quite different. - Bruce Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

It's not necessary to speak Korean to grasp the beauty of this duo's playing (Jason on violin, with Mr. Park on kayagum, ajeng & vocals) - but it might help. Certainly, having lived in Korea for 15 years, I have some understanding of "where this is coming from" - particularly on tracks like "Ari Rang", a traditional tune about a lost lover... these gents breathe new life into a tune that's already stood the test of time… I enjoyed this, & hope to hear more in the future - the CD gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us for listeners ready to experience something sonically different! - Rotcod Zzaj


In his book Blues People, Amiri Baraka comes close to offering a definition of jazz by calling it speech-inflected, a music that emerges from the language of its players. It’s not a definition that all would agree with, but it is succinct, and it fits with some musicians’ accounts of their music “telling a story” or “talking.” It even has historical justification in the pitch-based languages of African Americans’ ancestors in West and Central Africa, where instruments can sometimes act as surrogates for human speech. Baraka may well be right about jazz, but it may also turn out that all other musics are speech-inflected to various degrees, since the evolution of speech and music are closely related.

Musicians also talk about having a distinctive “voice” on their instruments, and when they do so, they draw on a poets’ metaphor, an analogy between the speaking voice and the written voice. “Voice” conveys the sense that the poet is not only what she says, but how she says it. In a similar way, the musician’s voice is more than the notes: it’s a sound, a way of making notes come alive by phrasing, tone quality, and a dozen other means of creating the sense that the musician’s body is in the sound. A distinctive voice is not a gift, but something that musicians hear as a possibility in themselves and attempt to craft over time, extracting it like alchemists from an alloy of breath, metal, wood, or string.

Jason Kao Hwang has deepened these insights by expressing the view that music articulates in ways similar to the language of the culture that produces it. As an American-born child of immigrant Chinese parents who grew up in the heat of the post-bop/new music era, he sought his own voice on the violin beyond those of the classical masters. The cultures that he and Sang Won Park (an immigrant trained on the kayagum and ajeng in Korea) draw upon are much more complex than a simple cultural mirror that reflects a single image. Like other string players of the age in which they live – Malcolm Goldstein, Ornette Coleman, Billy Bang, Leroy Jenkins, Min Xiao Fen, and Wang Guo Wei – they have developed voices that are immediately recognizable and distinct.

When Hwang and Park play together on this recording, their several traditions meet and interpenetrate to form yet another musical language, their local lingo. On “Embers,” for example, Hwang sets up a series of unaccompanied solos or “soliloquies,” as he describes them, “played as a recitatif, in a rubato determined by both narrative and breath.” Recitatif is a way of singing that stays close to spoken language, and Hwang’s description of his piece suggests that he is thinking in vocalized terms, much as did poets like Alan Ginsberg when they were following the lead of 1960s musicians such as Ornette Coleman.

“Ari Rang,” on the other hand, is music close to Korean tradition, a much-beloved, 600-year-old folk song. But in Korea there is no orthodoxy about this piece, and hundreds of variations exist, with differences in melody, words, and the even the order of the verses. In that spirit, Park and Hwang give their version a sly, ambling, country feel that suggests a kind of universal funkiness.

The other pieces on this recording are tours de force, or bravura performances, as the classical musicians would say. “Grassy Hills” is one of Hwang’s earliest compositions, something he recorded with his first band, Commitment, and still plays with Edge, his current quartet. On this recording it provides the occasion for Park’s astonishing finger picking on the 12-string kayagum, a performance whose implied reverberations and echoes make it seem at times as if it was electronically enhanced. In their ensembles, the synergy between these two musicians on this track is remarkable. “Third Sight” is a “contemporary Korean folk song” composed by Hwang under the inspiration of Park’s playing, and when both of them are bowing together they generate musical energy and a sheer sonic force that continually surprises. “Listen” is described by Hwang as “a ritual call and response that reflects upon our destinies.” One might add that it also bristles with the harmonic density and compositional integrity of a Bartok string quartet, something that would seem impossible for only two instruments.

This is music of great delicacy and richness of expression, the product of an aesthetic that insists on the uniqueness of each musician’s voice, but one that also assumes their ability to play together with intense compatibility and respect. This aesthetic, needless to say, has yet to find its parallel in any known culture or political system.

John F. Szwed

Note: The kayagum and ajeng are Korean zithers. The kayagum has twelve strings and is plucked. The ajeng has six strings and is bowed with a resined stick.


released January 1, 2006

All Compositions by Jason Kao Hwang p c Flying Panda Music, BMI 2006

Executive Producer: Jason Kao Hwang
Recorded on January 29, 2006 at Aorta Sound, Jersey City, New Jersey
Recording Engineer: Alexandra von Oertzen
Mixing Engineers: Jason Kao Hwang, Alexandra von Oertzen
Mastering Engineer: Paul Zinman, SoundByte Productions, Inc.

Liner Notes: John Szwed
Design: Jienan Yuan
Photography: Miana Graflas



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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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