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  • Jonathan Widran

JASON KAO HWANG & J.A. DEANE, Uncharted Faith

Listening to any of the intricate, brilliantly crafted avant-garde recordings by violin master and sonic visionary Jason Kao Hwang poses a series of unique challenges best solved by understanding the thematic context in which he created it. For Blood (2018) and Human Rites Trio (2020), the previous two epics I mused upon in this space, the guide was Scott Currie, whose liner notes shed light and insight into the dynamic aural universes Hwang created.

In my 2018 review of Blood, violin maestro Jason Kao Hwang’s adventurous avant-garde collection spotlighting his octet of Chinese and Western instruments, I referred the curious listener to the illuminating liner notes of Scott Currie for deeper insights into how Hwang used odd metered music and chaotic energies to convey the inner and outer chaos of war. For Hwang’s latest, the deeply spiritual, fascinatingly chaotic, edgy and densely packed Uncharted Faith, the violinist records for the first time with J.A. Deane, an electronic music innovator the violinist first played with in the 80s with various Butch Morris ensembles.

Hwang’s fascinating and ultimately poignant liners about how the collaboration known as “Dino Duo” came together guide our understanding of why these adventurous cacophonies – starting with the hypnotic, high toned violin driven “Parallel Universe” – somehow make perfect and necessary spiritual sense. On a purely technical level, it’s important to note that all tracks on the project are completely improvised. Once they agreed to work together, Dino proposed that Hwang send him five to ten minutes of solo acoustic violin improvisations;

The synthesist would work with them and send them back to Hwang for overdubs. Without titles and Hwang’s guidance, it might be difficult to understand the deep spirituality happening throughout these six tracks – all leading up to the final 20 minute exhalation of the title track, an expansive, tension filled, otherworldly yet sacred feeling piece that takes us on a powerful, improvised yet purposeful journey to destinations unknown. The vagueness makes perfect sense when we learn from Hwang’s notes that Dino was terminally ill with throat cancer throughout the process (at first unbeknownst to the violinist) and that he viewed this project as his final creative statement. Well aware that he would soon be joining his recently departed life partner Colleen, Dino reveled in expressing the mystery of Uncharted Faith in the music he created with Hwang.

The violinist in turn wrote to his soon to depart collaborator: “I am deeply moved by your faith. . .You opened my eyes and ears to the expressivity of electronic processing which enriched my life. . . I know your journey forward will be full of beauty and wonder, just like your music.” Surrounded by friends, Dean transitioned July 23,2021 – leaving behind this unusual, sometimes maddening but often beautifully wondrous work, along with a legacy that was a true gift to Hwang and the rest of the world.


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