Jason Kao Hwang’s “Blood” is an uncompromising lens to the horrors of war

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Jason Kao Hwang presents “Blood” with his Burning House Orchestra. From the beginning, listeners understand that this is not a jazz album to be danced to. In fact, if there is any celebration here, it is of the human spirit.

“Blood” examines trauma through sound. In some of the tracks, audiences can hear what sounds like human anguish. But the point of the recording is not to re-create the horror. The point is to translate the trauma into sound. As Hwang explains in his composer’s statement: “”Blood” meditates upon the emotional trauma of war retained within the body as unspoken vibrations that reverberate throughout communities and across generations. Through “Blood” the violence of deeply held memories are not relived but transposed into our sound. “Blood” in our sound rise within our voices as strength flows into wholeness.”

Certainly the work here gives listeners quite a bit upon which to meditate. The songs are not exactly violating any musical “rules,” but they are challenging what people expect of jazz, and creating the space in which listeners can in fact, meditate on the theme as provided by the album.

About Jason Kao Hwang and Burning Bridge

Jason Kao Hwang is a composer and performer. His instruments of choice are the violin and viola. Burning Bridge is the octet of Chinese and Western players he has chosen to bring his music to life. Hwang’s professional life is filled with accolades for his recording work. Along with Burning Bridge, Hwang has performed at festivals throughout the US and Canada. Jazz critics have not missed his abilities, either. Publications such as Jazziz, Downbeat, have awarded Hwang’s work with such titles as “Best CD of 2017” (his quintet recording “Sing House.”) Hwang himself has also been called “Rising Star for Violin” by a 2012 Downbeat Critics Poll. Hwang’s composition work is or has been supported by Chamber Music America, US Artists International, the NEA, Rockefeller Foundation, and others. As a working violinist, Hwang has worked with Karl Berger, Anthony Braxton, William Parker, Butch Morris, Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Pauline Oliveros, Tomeka Reid, Patrick Brennan and others.

Sound and mood of “Blood” by Jason Kao Hwang

The album is relatively brief. It contains five songs. The songs range in running time from 12 and a half minutes to just over seven minutes.

Listeners might notice the work of string instruments right away. They do a great deal of the vibrating that sets the tone for the album’s, theme, at least in the first song.

While the album is not traditionally “danceable,” it does have groovy, bluesy parts for tuba, string bass, and trombone to shine. The tracks “Surge (Part I)” and “Evolution” are two of the best examples of the album’s bluesy tendencies.

To understand how the album works, Hwang’s explanation of how he has seen trauma play a role in people’s lives is helpful. Hwang recalls: “While driving down an unlit road, my headlights flashed upon the bleeding carcass of a deer. My heart rate exploded as I swerved away, narrowly avoiding a collision. This overwhelming shock This overwhelming shock made me reflect upon my mother’s experience in China during World War II. She was in a pharmacy struck by a Japanese bomb. Knocked unconscious, she awoke as the lone survivor surrounded by the dead.” Hwang is also influenced by the traumas witnessed by musicians he has worked with who are Vietnam veterans.

Hwang’s work has the gravitas of well-crafted creative nonfiction. Knowing what has inspired the music, listeners can almost see the various scenes of trauma that have and could have inspired Hwang. “Blood” is a unique interpretation of an unsettling, but too often unavoidable theme.

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