Jason Kao Hwang’s EDGE Ensemble: Burning Bridge

Man playing violin

Download file

Delve into the raucous, funky world of Jason Hwang’s eight-piece band and their rowdy, collective improvisations that invoke the legacies of New Orleans jazz, Ornette Coleman, and Charles Mingus. He is joined by a deep brass section with Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn, Joe Daley on tuba, and Steve Swell on trombone, plus Ken Filiano on bass, Andrew Drury on drums, Wang Guowei on erhu (Chinese fiddle), and Sun Li on pipa (Chinese lute). This concert was presented in 2010 in conjunction with the exhibition Fiona Tan: Rise and Fall.


Jason Kao Hwang, composer, violin
Taylor Ho Bynum, cornet, flugelhorn
Andrew Drury, drum set
Ken Filiano, string bass

Guest artists
Joe Daley, tuba
Sun Li, pipa
Steve Swell, trombone
Wang Guowei, erhu

Burning Bridge

Ashes, Essence 00:00–28:00
Worship, Whirling 28:00–43:00
Fiery, Far Away 43:00–55:55
Incense, In Sense 55:55–1:13:17
Ocean, O Sun 1:13:17–1:34:04

This concert was presented on November 19, 2010, in conjunction with the exhibition Fiona Tan: Rise and Fall.

Burning Bridge was composed upon a burning bridge. The nature of this music consumes temporal illusions while enveloping the concurrence of life and death. On this burning bridge, the tinder of history and culture feeds flames that vibrate within the core of both instinct and identity. The fire, often ignored, has always existed, with bridges burning each moment of our ever-changing lives. EDGE and guest artists have performed Burning Bridge at the Chicago World Music Festival, Edgefest (Ann Arbor, MI), and the Bop Shop (Rochester, NY).

For Burning Bridge, the various traditions of each instrument—Chinese, jazz, and Western classical—are united into a single musical voice resonant with distinct cultural overtones. With the poetic complexities inherent in this sound, the music possesses all the attributes of any human being. Burning Bridge is the experience, not the representation.

The macro-conditions set by this jazz composition cultivate many micro-discoveries of sound and phrase. Both differences and commonalities between the jazz and traditional Chinese musicians are embraced as essential to Burning Bridge. At first, the novelty of Chinese sounds appears graphic, indelible, and dominant. For example, when hearing a unison note between the pipa and string bass, the pipa dominates. But as the music progresses, spectacle sensations diminish to a sotto voce, and a democracy of sounds emerges and flourishes. To fulfill the promise of this cross-cultural ensemble, the musicians challenge the boundaries of their aesthetic sensibilities and technique, burning many bridges along the way. Their performance creates a metalanguage that is both the vehicle and essence of this music.

Burning Bridge utilizes the distinct emotional territories produced by the process of notation and improvisation. Each of these two modalities possesses a distinct energy that can be either blurred into a single flow or made distinct. The interplay of modalities also offers a compositional dynamic between the jazz musician’s personal voice and the overarching narrative of Burning Bridge. The infinite permutations between improvisation and notation, the individual and collective, are architecturally sequenced to conjure a narrative landscape through which the listener will journey and imagine. While the sonic physiology is complex, the actual living music is experienced simply.

In 2009, my mother passed away and my reflections upon her life flowed into the music. The opening motif is based upon her speech patterns in a Chinese proverb she repeated to me many times during my childhood. Another motif is based upon my memory of a hymn we sang in the Presbyterian church. Later, I learned that my recalled rendering is close to the church hymn “Doxology.”

My first band was called Commitment, a collective quartet of the loft jazz era. Earlier this year, the Lithuanian label No Business released a double CD and LP Commitment, The Complete Recordings, 1981/1983. This new release includes our 1983 performance of my composition “Ocean” at the Moers Festival in Germany. Because of the music and all the memories it represents, I incorporated “Ocean” into the concluding movement of Burning Bridge.

—Jason Hwang

The music of Jason Kao Hwang, composer/violin/viola, explores the vibrations and language of his history. His compositions are often narrative landscapes through which sonic beings embark upon extemporaneous, transformational journeys. His recent release, Conjure, features his duo with Karl Berger, and his CD Blood is performed by Burning Bridge, his octet of Chinese and Western instruments. In 2020, 2019, 2018, 2013, and 2012, the El Intruso International Critics Poll voted him #1 for Violin/Viola. In 2017, Downbeat magazine named his quintet Sing House as one of the best of the year. His 2015 CD Voice features vocalists Deanna Relyea and Tom Buckner. The CD Zilzal, his duets with Ayman Fanous, was named one of the top recordings of 2014 by All About Jazz/Italy. The 2012 Downbeat Critics’ Poll voted Mr. Hwang as rising star for violin. The first CD with his Burning Bridge ensemble was named one of the top recordings of 2012 by Jazziz and the Jazz Times. In 2011, he released Symphony of Souls, performed by his improvising string orchestra Spontaneous River. In 2010, the New York Jazz Record selected Commitment, The Complete Recordings, 1981–1983 (from a collective that was Mr. Hwang’s first band) as one the 2010 Reissued Recordings of the Year. His quartet EDGE released EDGE (2006), Stories Before Within (2008), and Crossroads Unseen (2011), all of which appeared on top-ten recordings-of-the-year lists. His chamber opera, The Floating Box, A Story in Chinatown, was named one of the top ten opera recordings of 2005 by Opera News. As a composer, Mr. Hwang has received support from Chamber Music America, the National Endowment for the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation, New York Community Trust, New Jersey State Council for the Arts, New York State Council for the Arts, and US Artists International. As a violinist, he has worked with William Parker, Anthony Braxton, Butch Morris, Reggie Workman, Pauline Oliveros, Taylor Ho Bynum, Tomeka Reid, Patrick Brennan, Will Connell, Jr., Zen Matsuura, Oliver Lake, Adam Rudolph, and Jerome Cooper.

Taylor Ho Bynum, cornet and flugelhorn, is a performer, composer, bandleader, and interdisciplinary collaborator with artists in dance, film, and theater. Bynum leads three groups—a trio, a sextet, and the eight-piece ensemble, SpiderMonkey Strings—and co-leads the ten-piece ensemble Positive Catastrophe with percussionist and composer Abraham Gomez-Delgado. He has also developed a body of solo music for cornet and duo work with dancer and choreographer Rachel Bernsen. In addition to his own groups, Bynum regularly performs with Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, Bill Lowe, Joe Morris, Stephen Haynes, and Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng. He appears on more than fifty CDs.

Joseph Daley, tuba, is a contemporary music, jazz, and improvisation artist. He studied at the Manhattan School of Music, attaining a bachelor’s degree in performance and a master’s degree in music education. He has received fellowships in music composition from the National Endowment of the Arts, MacDowell Colony, Music Omi, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. His debut CD project, The Seven Deadly Sins (2011), features his Earth Tones Ensemble Jazz Orchestra and mines the same rich vein of musical expression as that of Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, and George Russell. His follow up project titled The Seven Heavenly Virtues is orchestrated for string orchestra and percussion. It was supported by the New Music USA’s CAP recording program made possible by funds from the Mary Flager Charitable Trust. Daley produced three CD projects for his JoDa Music Label: Portraits, Trayvon Martin Suite, and the Tuba Trio Chronicles. He recently retired as a music educator after thirty years of service. Mr. Daley has performed, recorded, and toured internationally with Muhal Richard Abrams, Bill Cole, Far East Side Band, Sam Rivers, Ellery Eskelin, Liberation Music Orchestra, Gil Evans, Carla Bley, Taj Mahal Tuba Band, Jayne Cortez, George Gruntz, Howard Johnson and Gravity, Ebony Brass Quintet, Paradigm Shift, Dave Douglas, Bill Dixon, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Craig Harris and God’s Trombones, Spider Monkey Strings, Burning Bridge, and Hazmat Modine.

Andrew Drury, drum set, is a drummer and composer of mostly jazz and free improvisation. He has toured homeless shelters in Indiana, served as artist-in­residence with the Oneida Nation, jammed with prison inmates in Connecticut, and led workshops in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Bosnia, and across the US. A former student of Ed Blackwell, he can be heard on over twenty CDs and has played with Ricardo Arias, Jim Black, Michel Doneda, Mark Dresser, Peter Evans, Mazen Kerbaj, Eyvind Kang, Briggan Krauss, Myra Melford, Andrea Neumann, Reuben Radding, Wadada Leo Smith, Chris Speed, Steve Swell, TOTEM, Jack Wright, and others.

Ken Filiano, string bass, released his solo CD Subvenire (NineWinds) in 2003, when it was chosen by Cadence magazine as one of the top ten CDs of the year. He tours widely, having performed at the DuMaurier International Jazz Festival, Banlieues Bleues Festival (Paris), and Carnegie Hall. He was principal bassist with the Cascade Festival Orchestra from 1985 to 2002. Ken has played or recorded with Bobby Bradford, Nels Cline, Vinnie Golia, Dom Minasi, Alex Cline, Ted Dunbar, and Joseph Jarman.

Sun Li, pipa, graduated from the Shenyang Music Conservatory, where she was a member of the Central Song and Dance Ensemble in Beijing. Performing with Music From China since 2002, she has also appeared with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, New Brunswick Symphony Orchestra, Columbus Symphony Orchestra, and the 2013 Lincoln Center Festival, and she has performed a solo recital at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Steve Swell, trombone, has been an active member of the New York City music community since 1975. He has toured and recorded with artists ranging from mainstream acts such as Lionel Hampton and Buddy Rich to more contemporary artists like Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon, Cecil Taylor, Roswell Rudd, and William Parker. He appears in more than twenty-five CDs as a leader or co-leader and is a featured artist on more than ninety other releases. He leads trombone and jazz workshops around the world and is a teaching artist in the New York City public school system, focusing on special needs children. He was nominated as Trombonist of the Year in 2008 by The Jazz Journalists.

Wang Guowei, erhu, is both a composer and performer on the Chinese two-string fiddle. He studied at the Shanghai Conservatory and was concertmaster and soloist with the Shanghai Traditional Orchestra. He joined Music From China in 1996 as artistic director and has appeared with the Shanghai Quartet, Ying Quartet, Amelia Piano Trio, Third Angle New Music Ensemble, Virginia Symphony, and Columbus Symphony Orchestra, as well as with Ornette Coleman, Butch Morris, and Yo-Yo Ma. Wang Guowei founded and conducts the Music From China Youth Orchestra. He is artist-in-residence in Chinese Music Performance at Williams College and director of the Williams College Chinese Ensemble. He also conducts the Westminster Choir College Chinese Music Ensemble and is co-director and conductor of the Swarthmore College Chinese Ensemble.

This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio recording and editing by Andy Finch and Suraya Mohamed. Web production by Gio Camozzi. Copyediting by Ian Fry. Special thanks to the artists for granting permission to share their performance at the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Burning Bridge by Jason Kao Hwang was made possible with support from Chamber Music America’s 2009 New Jazz Works Commissioning and Ensemble Development program, funded through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Photographs by Scott Friedlander ©2013. Used with permission.

Related Images