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Jason Kao Hwang/Burning Bridge – Blood – True Sound Recordings TS 01, 47:51 [10/22/18] ****:

There are many meanings for the term blood. Blood is a biological fluid found in animals. Blood ties can refer to family bonds and relationships. A blood brother can be someone who has taken an oath to protect close friends. Composer/violinist Jason Kao Hwang also focuses on different definitions for blood on his late 2018 release, the 48-minute Blood. The album entails one unceasing track divided into five titled sections. Throughout, Hwang and his Western/Eastern octet Burning Bridge ponder the emotional ordeals of war or violence which can be held within the body as implicit vibrations which might echo in a community or across future generations. Thus, in an important way, the intensity of profound recollections is not so much re-experienced during Blood but rather transferred into music.

This transference is produced via compositional landscapes which traverse jazz, neo-classical, free improvisation and Asian musical tones. The Burning Bridge group comprises artists who meet Hwang’s ambitious viewpoint, including percussionist Andrew Drury (drum set, concert bass drum, percussion); string bassist Ken Filiano (he’s played or recorded with Anthony Braxton, Nels Cline, Bill Dixon, Fay Victor and others); trombonist Steve Swell (who has an extensive list of releases as a leader); Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn); tubist Joseph Daley (credits include Carla Bley, Braxton, Gil Evans and more); Sun Li on the pipa (a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument); and Wang Guowei on erhu (a two-stringed bowed musical instrument also sometimes called a spike fiddle). Hwang’s long-form project consists of five acts. The first act opens with the 12:32 “Breath Within the Bomb,” which is partially a reflection on Hwang’s mother’s time in China during World War II. While in a Chinese pharmacy she was knocked unconscious by a Japanese bomb. When she came to, she discovered she was the only survivor. The highly-detailed “Breath Within a Bomb” commences and concludes with the reverberations of distant bass explosions created by Drury’s bass drum and Filiano’s bowed bass and then Daley’s tuba. The lengthy work also has ensemble brass soloing; sustained qualities crafted by varied duos or trios; and collective improvisations which flow firmly into individual undertakings. There are lyrical instances but also harmonically interdependent polyphony. It takes some re-listening to grasp all of Hwang’s particulars during “Breath Within a Bomb.” But the journey is worth the effort.

The second and third acts involve the two-part, 14-minute “Surge.” “Surge, Part 1” initiates with a somber, Asiatic ceremonial sequence which transmutes into a bluesy swagger and a muscled rhythmic groove. Violin and cornet solos are interestingly contrasted against erhu and pipa solos. “Surge, Part 1” ends with a heightened and rhythmic joint musical movement. “Surge, Part 2” revisits the ritualistic asceticism heard in the first act, with the stringed instruments swelling, followed by Bynum’s horn soaring above the strings and percussion. Trombone enters the mix, and then Drury adds a determined percussion solo.

The fourth act, the 11-minute “Evolution,” begins with a jazz swing highlighted by Bynum’s cornet and flugelhorn while Daley mingles his rhythmic tuba with Drury and Filiano’s twinned beats. There is also more of the bluesy slant heard during “Surge, Part 1.” The band’s call-and-response exchanges are also notable, as well as communal improvisation. Hwang incorporates a funky violin solo which evokes early Jean-Luc Ponty. While most of “Evolution” has a happiness-filled momentum, “Evolution” finishes with an improvised, melancholy coda which reminds listeners of the album’s distress-tilted theme.

The fifth and final act is the nearly ten-minute “Declarations,” which amplifies the first act’s resonant low-tinged noise by means of bass and tuba solos accentuated by strings, then Daley’s meditative tuba improvisation, followed by Hwang’s equally poignant violin, and a closing ensemble affirmation which functions as an appeal for peace. There may never be an effective pathway to counteract violence, but musical conceptions such Jason Kao Hwang/Burning Bridge’s Blood are a way to remember, observe and never forget.

Performing Artists:
Joseph Daley – tuba; Andrew Drury – drum set, concert bass drum, percussion; Ken Filiano – string bass; Jason Kao Hwang – composer, producer, mix engineer, violin; Steve Swell – trombone; Sun Li – pipa; Taylor Ho Bynum – cornet, flugelhorn; Wang Guowei – erhu

TrackList:
Breath Within the Bomb
Surge, Part 1
Surge, Part 2
Evolution
Declarations

—Doug Simpson

LogoJason Kao Hwang