Jason Kao Hwang, electric violin; Sang-Won Park, kayagum, ajang, voice; Yukio Tsuji, percussion, skakuhachi, voice. This title was part of the CounterCurrents series, with cover design by Steve Byram.
Jason Kao Hwang’s creative process is inseparable from his unique experience as an artist of color in America. "This music must exist beyond conventional categories to be true to my experiences as an Asian-American. You couldn't accurately bag this music as jazz, classical, or blues."
Hwang values improvisation as the most personal form of expression, an avenue to the unconscious, which frees each performer to become fully engaged in the moment.
"As a composer, I'm shaping the energy through the improvisational structure, recognizing the individual voices and harnessing their extemporaneous language into a dynamic, emotional flow" he says. "Consider the composition a stage with specific lighting and props. The improviser strides onto that stage, feeling that evocative set, aware of the overall play, then speaking boldly with nuances and gestures to convey the text."
While Hwang is quick to note that The Far East Side Band is neither a traditional music ensemble nor a free jazz group, in so many ways their music pays homage to the respective heritage of each band member. In reverberating soundscapes like "Caverns" or in "Still Water, Movement, Memories and Ice"—a sort of program music for the quiet drama of seasonal change—the band extends the Asian artistic tradition of reverent observances of nature.
The music on this compact disc—its mystery and beauty—is nourished by at least two cultural streams: the forms and rituals of Asian music as well as the improvisatory freedom of jazz.
Hwang stresses the connection between music and language. He believes the inflection and structure of phonemes in language correspond directly to the music of that culture. As an American-born Chinese who speaks little Chinese, he enjoys exploring a musical language that is the essence of his cultural survival. The Far East Side Band is an expression of this American experience. In the words of poet Adrienne Rich, music may well be that evanescent "dream of a common language."
Throughout this recording, the duo and ensemble work is exceptionally empathic; one feels privileged to eavesdrop on an acutely sensitive and inspired musical conversation.