Burning Bridge at the Freer Gallery
Thursday, December 23, 2010 at 03:52PM
Stephen Brookes

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • November 22, 2010

It’s not that often that you get to hear a tuba in a love duet with a two-stringed Chinese fiddle. Or a percussionist singing into his drums as if they were wind instruments. Or honky-tonk blues cranked out on the delicate Chinese lute known as the pipa. But these are more or less ordinary events in the sound world of violinist-composer Jason Kao Hwang, who brought a vast array of sonic wonders to the Freer Gallery on Friday night in his latest genre-straddling work, “Burning Bridge.”

Jason Kao HwangHwang is a naturally postmodern composer, and it was clear from the opening bars that “Bridge” (a five-part jazz suite running about an hour and a half) had a planetary-wide range of roots, from Chinese traditional music to New York’s downtown free jazz scene.

But this wasn’t just jazz with a little hoisin sauce. Hwang has his finger firmly on the racing pulse of the 21st century, where everything is interconnected and boundaries of time and geography seem hopelessly quaint. If there’s a war cry for music of the new millennium, it might well be: Burn the bridges – there’s no going back.

And that’s what “Bridge” seemed to be about. The suite set out a framework of constantly evolving ideas in a loose narrative structure, within which the eight players improvised extensively. And much of the brilliance of Friday night’s performance, it must be said, belongs to the incendiary playing of Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, Andrew Drury on drums, and Ken Filiano on bass (all members of Hwang’s Edge Quartet), joined by Joe Daley on tuba, Sun Li on pipa, Wang Guowei on erhu and the always impressive trombonist Steve Swell.

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