Even in this day where streaming is dominant and packaging is slightly less valued, liner notes in the jazz realm play an important role in illuminating the artist’s intentions and helping us understand the music on a deeper level so we may enjoy and appreciate it more.
Although Scott Currie has never played a note on any of the sonically and thematically brilliant yet often maddening and elusive music of avant-garde composer and electric violin visionary Jason Kao Hwang, he’s been a constant crucial companion whose poppin’ off the page words have helped me (and I’m sure countless others) understand in depth what Hwang is expressing as he’s worked in recent years with various collaborators and ensembles, including the late electronic music innovator J.A. Deane on Uncharted Faith (2022).
Currie works his wordsmithing magic once again with Book of Stories, the characteristically fascinating yet often inscrutable – sometimes soothingly meditational, often crazily chaotic – debut effort by Hwang’s latest outfit Critical Response, a trio featuring equally game (and wildly talented) distortion-driven electric guitarist Anders Nilsson and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson. Hwang himself offers a bit of insight about the five distinctive tracks, which take us from the many mood swings (powerfully rhythmic to utterly chaotic and back to calm acceptance) of the 14 minute opener “The Power of Many in the Soul of One” – dedicated to Hong Kong democracy movement leader Joshua Wong – to the more lilting and lyrical (read: somewhat easier to follow structurally) “Friends Forever,” dedicated to his first quartet Commitment.
The violinist says, “In Book of Stories,” arising from composition, improvisation, synergy and truth seeking, Critical Response challenges the disillusionment and divisiveness that encircle this moment in history.” Assuming most fans want to go deeper on a track to track basis, Currie deftly handles the further details, sharing how the stark, haunting “a silent ghost follows” evokes electric soundscapes of psychoanalytic dreamwork and how the harsh, dissonant energy we hear on “Dragon Carved into Bone” – inspired by the Chinese bone carvings in Hwang’s childhood home – is the trio “imagining the exciting directions in which fusion might have evolved had it held fast to its loft era experimentalist DNA, perhaps cross fertilizing with downtown punk and electronica to yield wild-flowered fields of turbulent tuttis. . .and funky jam sections.”
While Hwang will always be vibing musically with incredible new ensemble configuration, the perfect pairing of his trippy, insightful music and Currie’s mind-blowing descriptions will always be an exciting constant.