Ayman Fanous - Guitar,Bouzouki
Guitar on tracks 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8
Bouzouki on tracks 1, 5, and 9
Jason Kao Hwang - violin, viola
Violin on tracks 2, 3, 5, 7, and 9
Viola on tracks 1, 4, 6, and 8
this is one of the finest duet recordings I’ve heard in recent memory.
- Robert Iannapollo, Cadence Magazine, July/August, 2014
The duo of Ayman Fanous and Jason Kao Hwang doesn't shy away from anything. It's a partnership built on mutual respect, conviction, and a yearning for truth in sound.
- Dan Bilawsky, All About Jazz, February 27, 2014
This is not world music. It isn't jazz either. This is music with ambition. Ambitions of beauty, artistic ambitions, for new forms of sounds, new ways to express things, full of emotional depth, with emotions that are too complex to be canvassed in old forms, too elusive to be captured in patterns, too deep to be expressed in shallow tunes.
- Stef, Free Jazz Blog, February 5, 2014
Zilzal is the Arabic word for “earthquake,” and there couldn’t be a more fitting word to describe the collision of musical worlds on the debut album by the duo of guitarist Ayman Fanous and violinist Jason Hwang. Forged in New York’s downtown music scene of the late 1990s, this duo has developed a unique improvisational language that spans many streams of musical culture, aesthetics, and compositional philosophy. In its intercultural egalitarianism, it could only have been made in America.
Fanous came to free improvisation by way of flamenco and classical guitar. Unlike more academic manifestations of improvised music, these traditions have always been full of energy and emotional force. By yoking the expansive techniques of these demanding guitaristic approaches to a contemporary aesthetic, Fanous has developed a unique voice. It is full of both fiery virtuosity and harmolodic openness and complexity. To this combustible mix, Fanous adds a number of extended techniques to create a rich tapestry of textures and colors. While the guitar is Fanous’ primary instrument, he also reaches back into his Egyptian ancestry in improvisations on the bouzouki, an instrument which intimates the musical spirit of cultures from Central and South Asia to the Middle East, Balkans, and North Africa.
Jason Kao Hwang’s violin and viola explores the music of life within the resonance of each moment, which streams incessantly from future to past. His improvisations journey upon an inward, evolutionary road that rises through and transcends his cultural, historical and emotional inheritance to inspire outward vibrations of greater giving. By cultivating an individual voice, empathic listening, and faith in the expressivity of all sounds, Hwang believes the harvest of human potential and good is infinite.
Beautifully recorded by Sal Mormando and mastered by Grammy-winner Silas Brown, these improvisations were performed with no prior musical planning. But Fanous and Hwang have become so well-attuned to each other’s gestures, moods, and trajectories that sometimes the music can sound through-composed. Figure and ground give way to each other seamlessly, and at times meld into one and the same. The pieces range from the lyrical and jazzy, to the fiery, the melancholic and contemplative, and to rhythmic abandon. Throughout the recording, Fanous and Hwang employ the full palettes available to them, resulting in a music that is at once orchestral, cinematic, spontaneous, and at all times, visceral.
In short, this is contemporary instrumental music of great beauty, depth, energy, and sensitivity. It represents a snapshot of the complexities, richness, anxieties, exuberances, and polyglot accommodations of 21st century American life.
I almost fell out of my chair when my dear friend and duo partner, Tomas Ulrich, read out a name from his list of musician contacts. “…Jason Hwang, 201-…” Tomas had the flu and couldn’t make our gig the following night and was helping me find someone to fill in. I had recently moved to New York from Richmond, Virginia, where I had spent long hours listening to Jason’s work at the VCU music library. As a former childhood violin student, the instrument had always been to me a symbol of pathos-in-sound - humanity in all its virtues, vanities, and complexities. Rehearsing together the next day at his home in New Jersey, he had an uncanny ability to navigate the incongruent harmonic tapestry I threw at him, a bird in flight careening and somersaulting to a hidden instinct. Our first performance together yielded strange and beautiful music. With Jason, there are no wasted notes. Everything is a bridge to somewhere. All duos have their chemistries, redundancies and tensions, constructive and destructive interferences, unpredictable alchemies and magics. This duo is one of melody as an unpredictable journey into hidden corners.
The music on this CD is the culmination of an improvisational co-language which has evolved slowly and naturally over 15 years, starting with that auspicious beginning in New York. How do the sons of Chinese and Egyptian immigrants, growing up in dreary suburbs, make music relevant to both of them? The connections are many. The Silk Road brought the wonders of Chinese art to the Middle East in the 1200’s. Central Asia was a nexus of Islamic influence from the west and Chinese influence from the east. The same Islamic influence that brought plucked strings to Spain, birthplace of the guitar and flamenco. We were also both drawn to the subtly subversive free-jazz aesthetic – an expression of another, older and more tragic American diaspora. In many ways, this could only be American music. While I was naturally drawn to the guitar from the beginning, the bouzouki, from the first notes I ever plucked from it, was like the bell of hypnotic induction. The sound of it brings on a remembrance of ancestors, migrations, struggles, spiritual revolutions. The three tracks with bouzouki were named after places in Cairo, a city I was born in but have mostly imagined. It’s a place that has been on my mind quite a bit over the last 2 tumultuous years there. The title track Zinzal itself is the Arabic word fo ‘earthquake’. The people I owe debts to on this journey are too numerous to count. I’d like to thank my wife, Eva, for creating the conditions and support that have made this music possible, as well as for taking me deeper into flamenco and its culture than I ever thought I’d go. --Ayman Fanous
Ayman Fanous (guitar, bouzouki) was born in Cairo, Egypt but was raised in the US since age 5. He began classical violin studies at 7 but switched to the guitar at 12. He briefly studied classical guitar at James Madison University. However, he has been mostly self-taught, and has developed a trademark sound incorporating original extended techniques. He also reaches back into his Egyptian ancestry in improvisations on the bouzouki. Fanous has performed in duos with a number of leading jazz and improvisational musicians. These include cellists Tomas Ulrich and Frances-Marie Uitti, bassist William Parker, reed virtuosos Ned Rothenberg, Kinan Azmeh, and Lori Freedman, violinists Jason Hwang, Mark Feldman, and Mat Maneri, and guitarist Joe Morris. He has had a long-standing exploratory duo with harmolodic guitarist Bern Nix since 1995. Fanous’ 2007 release Labyrinths (Konnex), with Tomas Ulrich, was described as the “benchmark” for cello-guitar duo recordings in Signal to Noise magazine. Fanous has given hundreds of solo recordings, including live broadcasts on radio and television stations in the United States and Spain.
Jason Kao Hwang (composer, violin/viola) has created works ranging from jazz, “new” and world music. He recently released his octet CD, Burning Bridge (Innova), commissioned by Chamber Music America/ New Jazz Works, featuring Chinese and Western instruments. In 2011, he released Symphony of Souls (Mulatta), performed by his string orchestra Spontaneous River, and Crossroads Unseen (Eunonymus), the third CD of his quartet EDGE. The 2012 Downbeats Critics’ Poll voted him “Rising Star for Violin.” In 2011, EDGE toured Poland and the critics’ poll of El Intruso voted him #1 for Violin/Viola. In 2010, the NYC Jazz Record selected Commitment, The Complete Recordings, 1981-1983, from a collective quartet that was Mr. Hwang’s first band, as one of the “Reissued Recordings of the Year.” Mr. Hwang’s opera, The Floating Box, A Story in Chinatown was named one of the “Top Ten Opera Recordings of 2005” by Opera News. Mr. Hwang has received support from US Artists International, Meet the Composer, the NEA, and others. As violinist, Mr. Hwang has worked with William Parker, Pauline Oliveros, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and many others.
released November 19, 2013
All compositions by Ayman Fanous and Jason Kao Hwang, Flying Panda Music, BMI , 2013
Producer: Ayman Fanous
Recording Engineer: Sal Mormando
Mix Engineer: Jason Kao Hwang
Mastering Engineer: Silas Brown, Legacy Sound
Design: Philip Blackburn
Recorded on June 6, 2011 at Kaleidoscope Sound, Union City, New Jersey.
innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation
Director, Design: Philip Blackburn
Operations Manager: Chris Campbell
Publicist: Steve McPherson
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