Both lean toward respective entropies. Purely free improvisation counts so much on miracles & serendipity that it too easily defaults into stereotyped textures, sounds & narratives (& there are musicians who consistently transcend this brink, but it’s not nearly so simple as the word “free” implies). Precomposed music, as the Euroclassical tradition has demonstrated (& even imposed & demanded) a fracturing of musical activity around a stable artifact that’s compliantly reenacted as a “composition,” thereby attaining a controlled species of sonic imagistic coherence, but at the high cost of music as nature morte.
In collective improvisation, each participant acts as a composer, each deciding a music that’s cumulatively negotiated, a compositional structure at wide variance from the monological notion of composer as supreme commander & architect. The counterposition of composer for improvisers (a composer for dialogical composers) formulates a hybrid, mutant transformation of that role. In this context a “composition” is not the endpoint of compositional activity, but a transitional crux, a reference gesture, a starting point for yet more compositional invention.
A good amount of composing for improvisers, however, does no more than cut & paste nature morte with spontaneous invention in discrete blocks, with the twain in a cursory, one night stand, distant nodding acquaintance from across the room. Here’s the tune, the head, the lick, the riff, the chart, the vamp & over there is the soloing & ensemble interaction, leaving plenty of room for ego to fill in the dead zones with buzz & energy & show.
However, the great composers for improvisers have done much more than turn out such sonic “things.” Papa Ellington famously composed for and around specific individuals rather than instruments. It may be apocryphal, but a story once came my way that Duke didn’t compose for a particular musician until he’d seen how he played poker. Reliable or not, the story at least accurately targets the probabilistic terrain that composing for improvisers navigates. Mingus further upped the game as both composer and bassist provocateur, aptly threatening the boundaries of “composed” & “improvised” into fluid reciprocity. Monk, Ornette, Cecil T, Threadgill, Wadada & Butch Morris are among those who’ve developed specific languages & circumstances that reinflect the momentum of improvisational imagination into something more than individualistic habit.
Hwang is also of a transitional generation where many non-African-American musicians tested & reevaluated their relations with black music. For many of these creative, non-standard musicians, black music, for any number of reasons, simply came to offer a supply of additional styles to draw upon amid a pastiche smorgasbord eclecticism, an disposition that helped identify a large part of NY’s “downtown scene” with its sometimes easy blur into those more “colorless,” but somewhat better funded suburbs called “new music.”
A much smaller number, Hwang among them, have been willing to accept the aesthetic demands of African-American precedent as their own, acknowledging that they’re dealing with something larger & deeper than style, but with a body of artistic procedures & attitudes that’s equal in validity to anything Eurasia or Euroamerica have generated. That the defining “white” dream of second class status still imposed on actual African-Americans continues to extend also to African inspired aesthetics makes this a somewhat brave & risky choice, especially when the aspiration is not to appropriate, but to contribute with one’s own originality as a peer, along the way attempting to put into practice a social dream that has yet to come into full existence.
L to R: Ken Filiano (string bass), Andrew Drury (drum set), Jason Kao Hwang
(composer/violin/viola), Chris Forbes (piano),
Steve Swell (trombone); photo by Reuben Radding
National Press Campaign: Jim Eigo, email@example.com
National Radio Campaign: Kate Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org
For Concerts: Jason Kao Hwang, email@example.com
May 18, Thursday, 8pm
Jason Kao Hwang/Human Rites
Jason Kao Hwang - composer/vioilin/viola
Andrew Drury - drum set
Ken Filiano - string bass
May 26, Friday
477 Main St. in Beacon,NY; (845) 831-4988
Jason Kao Hwang Trio
with Michael T.A Thompson(drum set) and Anders Nilsson(guitar)
Wednesday, May 31, 8:30pm
Jason Kao Hwang/BURNING BRIDGE
NYC Premiere of Blood
Jason Kao Hwang (composer/violin), Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Joseph Daley (tuba), Andrew Drury (drum set), Ken Filiano (string bass), Sun Li (pipa). Steve Swell (trombone), Wang Guowei (erhu)
Judson Memorial Church
55 Washington Square South, NYC
Check the evening schedule
6pm Vision Youth Orchestra
7pm Whit Dickey/Matt Maneri/Matthew Ship
8pm K.J Holmes/Jeremy Carlstedt
8:30pm Burning Bridge
9:40pm Tracie Morris/Marvin Sewell
10pm Charles Gayle Trio