Jason Kao Hwang | Will Connell Jr. | William Parker | Takeshi Zen Matsuura | Commitment – The Complete Recordings – 1981-1983 | No Business Records

Will Connell, Jr. : flute, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, wood flutes | Jason Kao Hwang : violin, viola, bird calls | William Parker : string bass | Takeshi Zen Matsuura : drums

CD 1: 1. Mountain Song 3’31” 2. The Web of Forces 6’33” 3. Famine 5’07” 4. Grassy Hills, the Sun 10’03” 5. No Name 11’00” 6. Ocean 10’38” 7. The Pathway 6’25” 8. Diary for One at Night 21’58”

CD 2: 1. Continuous 22’33” 2. Grassy Hills, the Sun 16’16” 3. Whole Grain 9’48”

This record has been made possible by generous support of UAB “Garsu pasaulis”. NoBusiness Records NBCD 14/15, 2010, edition of 1000 CD’s * Tracks 1 through 5 on CD1 was recorded in stereo October 13 and 14, 1980 in New York City and originally released by Flying Panda Records. * Tracks 6 through 8 on CD1, and entirety of CD2 was recorded live in Germany, May 20th, 1983 and has never been released before. * Design by Oskaras Anosovas * Producers: Ed Hazell and Jason Kao Hwang * Executive producer – Danas Mikailionis * Co-producer – Valerij Anosov

This recording has been waiting to be released for long 27 years. “Live in Germany, 1983” session is also available on double LP. Enjoy this magnificient session. This release contains an extensive essay written by Ed Hazell, including interviews and incredible photos.jason kao hwang | will connell jr. | william parker | takeshi zen matsuura | commitment the complete recordings - 1981-1983

In some ways, Commitment

was typical of many bands of their time. Between 1978 and 1984, they enjoyed a modest success by the subterranean standards of the Lower East Side. They struggled for gigs during the waning years of the New York loft scene, enjoyed higher profile gigs at several Kool Jazz Festivals, made one short European tour, and recorded one LP. But their music is more significant than this story might indicate. Hwang was among the first improvisers to emerge out of the Asian American movement. His presence in the band as composer and improviser makes Commitment one of the first Afro-Asian free jazz ensembles. The presence of Asian American, African American, and Asian musicians in one band was almost unprecedented in the New York lofts, and their fusion of elements from Asian and African American cultures was unique – Ed Hazell

jason kao hwang | will connell jr. | william parker | takeshi zen matsuura | commitment the complete recordings - 1981-1983

There’s a curious blip

in the early discography of bassist/composer/multi-instrumentalist William Parker, one which at first might not register as a crucial document of Afro-Asian improvised music, much less a need-to-have avant-garde rarity. Commitment was the name of a cooperative group based in New York which began performing out in 1978 and ceased working together in 1984; it consisted of Parker, violinist Jason Kao Hwang, drummer Takeshi “Zen” Matsuura and reedman Will Connell, Jr. Recording one self-titled LP in 1980 that was released on Hwang’s Flying Panda label, the group was a fixture in Lower Manhattan performance spaces like Verna Gillis’ Soundscape, also performing at the Sound Unity Festival, Kool Jazz Festival, and in Europe. But like many jazz records released in the early 1980s underground, its status as a self-produced document rendered it unheard by all but the most serious devotees of the music. This two-disc set on Lithuanian free-jazz devotee label No Business includes the complete Commitment LP as well as a recording from the Moers Festival in Germany, and constitutes the group’s only appearance in the digital realm.

The group initially came together via Hwang and Connell; as detailed in loft-jazz historian Ed Hazell’s liner notes (he also did the booklet for the wonderful Muntu boxed set also on No Business), the pair met at one of the jam sessions held on Sunday afternoons at the Basement Workshop, an Asian-American cultural center whose mission was to broadly serve communities of artists to enable visibility for Asian-Americans. It’s hard to quantify what exactly makes the music itself sound “Asian” though certainly Hwang’s violin work approaches tonalities quite far from those in Western music, a narrow, high and piercing sound that reminds one – perhaps – of some Chinese string music. When plucked, there’s an air of poise and the ears could hear zither or harp as well as violin. In improvised music, one is quite used to being able to parse certain African and European influences, even at the general level, while Chinese (Hwang’s heritage), Japanese/Korean (Matsuura’s), much less South and Southeast Asian influences, are harder to pinpoint. In some passages of Commitment’s music, it is rather a distinct “otherness” that prevails – tones and combinations not seemingly relatable to anything one has heard in Afro-American or European-American free jazz.

Compositionally, Commitment runs the gamut from a decidedly measured pace to frenetic free-bop. The high, lonesome whine and the scales that Hwang improvises on in “Grassy Hills, the Sun” for example, end up quite far from the prevailing Leroy Jenkins model. That particular piece’s spacious moving-through of thematic material, almost duet-like as Hwang, Parker and Connell occupy it at Moers, does have more than a twinge of AACM-music in it, specifically the early work of Anthony Braxton or Muhal Richard Abrams’ “My Thoughts are My Future – Now and Forever.” From the Moers set, Parker’s composition “Whole Grain” is a free-bop tune of the highest order; a jaunty series of cycles for alto and violin across a snappy, swinging rhythm erupt into Connell’s braying post-Ayler/post-Roscoe Mitchell worrying cells, needled by Matsuura’s dry chatter and eloquently placed bombs. Hwang’s solo is nothing short of astounding – ferocious ducking and diving, shrieks and hoe-downs paired with rusty honks and horsehair swirls. A Stuff Smith bounce edges in and Hwang doubles on a passage both strummed and bowed in a technical feat that serves expressive complexity. While traditional motifs are certainly part of this tune, its movement into spaces beyond that are nevertheless controlled marks a work of early maturity in Parker’s writing/organizing canon.

Two of Connell’s compositions open the original LP, “Mountain Song” and “The Web of Forces.” The former espouses pensive delicacy, flute and arco strings winding through a lilting theme outlined by malleted cymbals and toms. Narrow fiddle sawing and centered abstraction parallel and buoy Connell’s thin breaths on this brief, measured piece. Halting, chunky rhythm and bundled keen on the latter are a nod to composer-pianist Horace Tapscott, with whom Connell studied, though the quartet is quickly off to a run, heel-digging triple-stops leading into uncorked alto skronk, Matsuura’s floating amalgam of Klook, Elvin and Max providing a cooking anchor to front-line freedom. The drummer also gives a grounded energy to the precarious swirl of bowed violin, bass and alto clarinet on Parker’s unsettling tone poem “Famine.” When the foursome stretch out, as on the two Hwang tunes that make up side two of the original album (including the aforementioned “Grassy Hills, the Sun”) and especially on much of the Moers set, room to embrace spacious textures and concise energy is taken full advantage of.

Even at its sparsest, Commitment carries with it a foot-stomping energy, the push-pull of Parker and Matsuura a forward-moving presence even in Hwang’s delicate, AACM-inspired processional themes. “No Name” is imbued ever so slightly with Braxton/Jenkins alto and violin pacing, while also seemingly a nod to the pathos-laden pairing of Ayler and Michel Sampson. The solo order follows lines of lead voice and rhythm, though concentrated subdivisions of meter offer supportive activity to the similarly coiled instant compositions of Connell and Hwang. While barely heard in their half-decade lifespan, this peerless ensemble is once again available for investigation. Those interested in the work of William Parker will especially enjoy this set, as not only does it provide early strong examples of his work, but the germinating seeds of pan-cultural influence on his later career are also quite visible.– Clifford Allen

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8 thoughts on “Jason Kao Hwang | Will Connell Jr. | William Parker | Takeshi Zen Matsuura | Commitment – The Complete Recordings – 1981-1983 | No Business Records

  1. Und die ist wirklich etwas Besonderes – zum ersten Mal in der Jazzgeschichte formierten sich afro- und asiatisch-amerikanische Musiker zu einer gemeinsamen Band und brachten ihre jeweiligen Kulturkreise in die Musik ein. Von Jason Kao Hwang (violin), Will Connell Jr. (sax, b-cl), William Parker (b) und Takeshi Zen Matsuura (dr) brachten es Parker als Mitglied der Band von David S. Ware und Autor des Buchs “Who owns music?” (Buddies Knife) und Hwang als Mitinitiator der Asian American Jazz Movement zu einiger dauerhafter Bekanntheit, während die anderen beiden in der Obskurität versanken.

    Auch der Band Commitment selbst war kein langes Leben beschieden. Abseits der damals hippen Loft-Szene zeichnete sich die Gruppe weniger durch Kollektivimprovisation als mit durchdachten, komplex arrangierten Kompositionen aus. Subtil und mit viel Raum für komplex geführte Stimmen sind es größtenteils balladeske Stücke, gelegentlich auch dicht-drängend nach vorn stürmende Songs, die man zu hören bekommt. “Web Of Forces” erinnert in letzterem an den Mingus der mittleren Phase. “Grassy Hills, the Sun” bietet als zehnminütiger Vertreter der Balladen die schönste Draufsicht auf die musikalische Bandbreite der Gruppe.

    Dass “The Complete Works” eine Doppel-CD ist, verdankt sich der Hinzunahme eines Livemitschnitts von einzigen Europaaufenthalts der Band. Die Stücke 1 bis 5 der ersten CD entsprechen der, nur rund 35 Minuten kurzen, offiziellen LP “Commitment” von 1980, der Rest der ersten und die gesamte zweite CD entstanden am 20. Mai 1983 während des Moers-Festivals (weitere, rund 85 Minuten).

    Gut, dass damals mitgeschnitten wurde! Obwohl die Tonqualität der Studioaufnahme nicht ganz gleichkommt, erlebt man ein spannendes, ja grandioses Konzert beinahe ohne Repertoireüberschneidungen mit der offiziellen Veröffentlichung (Ausnahme: “Grassy Hills”). Offenbar hatte man reichlich Material für eine zweite LP in petto, zu der es leider nie kam.

    Es ist klar, dass niemand diese Veröffentlichung wirklich “braucht”, außer man interessiert sich für die etwas obskureren Seitenarme der Jazzgeschichte. Dann jedoch ist “The Complete Recordings” eine Offenbarung, zumal der auf “Flying Panda Records” erschienene Erstling schwer zu beschaffen sein dürfte. Diese Doppel-CD hier lässt sich über das litauische(!) Label bestellen (den Live-Mitschnitt gibt es dort sogar als Doppel-LP – das Sammlerherz schlägt höher).

  2. Musical movements from rare groove to lo-fi have made a criterion of sorts out of obscurity. Record collectors foster the impulse, and most music lovers, regardless of their “brow” (high-brow, low-brow, no-brow) can understand the allure of a rare or forgotten gem. The new two-disc set Commitment: the Complete Recordings will have to prevail on such a viewpoint to catch most buyers’ eyes. The band in question, Commitment, was active for under a decade and made only three recordings: an LP recorded in 1981, an unreleased LP recorded in 1984, and a live set played in Germany at the Moers Jazz Festival in 1983, released for the first time on this compilation. These recordings do not play like pivotal keys to the understanding of an epoch, or long-lost masterpieces that reveal a new and startling dimension of the jazz tradition. Rather, this compilation is a pleasure to be pursued for its own sake, a mere snapshot, however vivid, of talented men pursuing their specific musical vision.

    Commitment was a quartet, based in the Lower East Side of New York, unique for its mix of Asian, Asian American and African American members. They played an intercultural brand of the free jazz that was at that time coming of age under the sure guidance of men like Cecil Taylor in the the open, collaborative atmosphere of the loft era. The band was founded when William Parker, a reed player, met the young violinist Jason Hao Kwang. Parker soon became a kind of mentor, nurturing in the younger man a desire for self-expression and self-exploration precipitated by his involvement with the Basement Workshop, an Asian American arts organization. Commitment was born out of a community preoccupied with social identity and cooperative growth, and what little remains of their meager legacy bears the marks of those circumstances. On the back of the Commitment LP, there was a poem which included the lines: “When we, as a family of musicians, play / and you, who listen openly, meet / we will explore the face of soul—it’s the tradition.”

    The group’s trademark sound was a seamless if chaotic form of group improvisation dominated by Kwang’s expressive, skittering strings and Zen Matsuura’s methodical, ambient drums. There is a spiritual, pictorial aspect to Commitment’s songs which is magnified quite a bit by titles like “Mountain Song”, “Grassy Hills, the Sun” and “Ocean”. One of the most impressive tracks on the album is “Famine” (from the LP), an eerie, beautiful piece which opens with an interchange between Kwang’s wavering violin and Will Connell’s sure-footed sawed bass. The percussion starts hesitantly but gathers momentum until all four musicians are contributing, each playing with the same simple figures in separate but responsive ways. They slowly diverge with more and more urgency until a nearly frantic alarm sounds out, not unlike the music that accompanies each encounter with the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Finally, nothing is left but a plaintively plucked violin and the song ends.

    There is certainly a unity to Commitment’s playing that befits the band’s name, especially on the tracks recorded in a studio. The seriousness that comes with such a codependent approach is a bit oppressive. One wonders, if they were all just listening to each other, what were they really playing? The flip side is that there are clearly no weak links in the lineup. Each member holds his own in the collective and each has standout moments. The live cuts lighten the mood a little and show Commitment letting loose. “Ocean”, for example, has a definite groove and some soulful improvising from Parker’s flute. “Diary for One Night” is a multifaceted and very personal workout with a schizophrenic pulse and chattering, anxious solos in the upper registers. There’s no doubt that the players’ personalities are strong; however, they may be subordinated to the group’s dynamics.

    The compilation is issued by No Business, a tiny and unlikely Lithuanian label that has been putting out some reissues and contemporary releases amazing for their individuality, quality, and obscurity. It comes with extensive liner notes, a miniature history of the band complete with photos and original track lists. The album is worth buying for anyone with a passion for avant garde jazz, or anyone looking for something new and engaging to hear; Commitment: the Complete Recordings may not exactly be a forgotten gem or an earth-shattering epiphany, but it’s a precious gift at the very least, a reminder that music can come from anyone, anywhere, and probably should.

  3. Based on the No Business release (NB CD 14-15) of the complete 1981-1983 recordings of the avant jazz group Commitment, I realize I missed out on a very distinctive conflagration the first time around. The 2-CD set includes their studio date of late 1980 and a live appearance from 1983 in Germany (the latter unreleased before).

    The band had an interesting aural presence partially due to it’s not entirely standard instrumentation: reeds (Will Connell, Jr.), violin (Jason Kao Hwang), acoustic bass (William Parker) and drums (Zen Matsuura). The sound is greatly abetted by William Parker’s enhanced sound staging, especially on the live date. He’s out front throughout and plays ensemble passages when not engaged in the flowing free bass anchorage for which is has become renowned.

    The studio date takes up much of the first disk and has less expansive, more compact improvisations. The live date stretches out more and has the advantage of two years of the band’s history under wraps. They seem more attuned to one another and the expanded time frame lets them flow to and from each interlocking arranged-improvised musical cell at a more leisurely and considered pace.

    It’s both individually and as a ensemble, especially the latter, that they distinguish themselves. The sound texture of the group in full sail is dramatically powerful and nuanced. The players as individuals have well developed musical personalities. Parker is assertive and sound-color oriented, a moving force and a direction taker throughout. Matsuura has a tumbling drumming style that has energy and freedom. Connell can and does catalyse the proceedings with his energy travels on flute, alto and bass clarinet. Hwang’s violin is sharply cutting when it needs to be and blends well with the melodic principals when engaged in ensemble improvisation or pre-worked line weaving.

    Having the studio and the live date on two CDs furnishes for you a kind of mini-retrospective that shows the band’s initial potential and its realization on two occasions. If only they stayed together even longer, they might have accomplished even more in the improvisatory realm. For a relatively brief moment in the ’80s they showed themselves as one of the most important improvisatory ensembles of the era. You can hear why on these sides.

  4. Following on from the artistic success of their splendid Muntu Box Set (2010), No Business Records has restored the only release by the ground-breaking cooperative Commitment to availability. As one of first bands to unite Asian American with African American musicians, the quartet, comprising Jason Kao Hwang on violin and Zen Matsuura on drums with reedman Will Connell Jr. and bassist William Parker, was almost unprecedented and its blending of cultures unique. What we have here is the 40-minute studio session from their lone eponymous LP supplemented by an almost 90-minute festival tape from Moers in Germany during the band’s only trip to Europe, in 1983. Ed Hazell, again, contributes extensive sleeve notes which document and explicate the context in which the original appeared at the tail end of the loft jazz era.

    This was the debut for the 23-year old Hwang who grows in prowess as an improvisor before your ears between performances, but was already a composer of note: his “Grassy Hills, The Sun” persists in his repertoire over 25 years on. Parker at that time was near ubiquitous in downtown Manhattan, when he wasn’t on the road with pianist Cecil Taylor, and remains the most high profile alumnus. Connell and Matsuura have birthed more slender discographies, both before and since. After a stint in LA with pianist Horace Tapscott, the reedman moved to the Big Apple, but has continued relatively unsung, being best heard on Atmospheels (CIMP, 1999) a trio with trombonist Steve Swell. Matsuura has fared only slightly better, recording more often, most recently on trumpeter Roy Campbell’s Akhenaten Suite (Aum Fidelity, 2007).

    Unlike the archetypal loft jazz group, Commitment was never a blowing band, and it is the quality of the compositions, from across the band, as much as the ensuing extemporizations, which first give pause for reflection. Although Matsuura hails from Japan and Hwang was a first generation American of Chinese descent, few overt oriental influences come into play. Rather, as Hazell suggests in the liner notes, they are absorbed into the overall conception, only hazily sensed in the way Matsuura’s percussive shading colors the ensembles or Hwang’s awareness of space and asymmetry.

    Surprisingly given the tendency for ballads to expose callowness, the slower pieces from the LP are consistently the most interesting. Connell’s “Mountain Song” makes for an unconventional opening: an atmospheric rubato dirge for flute, violin and arco bass over cymbals and mallets, which gradually unfurls into separate but intertwining lines, while maintaining the predominant mood. Parker’s “Famine” serves notice of the bassist’s coming stature as composer by sidestepping the head-solo turns by everyone-head format more typical of the time. After a violin line palely reminiscent of the previous “The Web Of Forces,” martial drums, bowed bass and long held bass clarinet tones create a drifting, almost nightmarish feel, as harsh textures ebb and flow. Everyone plays at once, building to a crescendo before a return to Hwang’s acapella violin, plucking plaintively over droning bass clarinet and rattling drum.

    But it is the violinist’s “Grassy Hills, The Sun” which forms the centerpiece of the album. Following a distinctively flavored, stately violin/alto unison over tumbling drums and booming bass, Hwang eases into a mournful, sometimes desolate, extravaganza, distinguished by occasional vocalized leaps. Parker and Matsuura combine in a wonderful gnarled backing which uncovers odd rhythmic pockets which the soloist must vault. Similarly inspired, Connell rises to his most telling outing of the set: a brief searing sour-toned alto saxophone exhortation of tight understated anguish. Before the finale, Matsuura makes a finely judged percussion statement, retaining those pockets of silence, his resonant cymbals like prayer gongs and pounding toms evoking taiko drums.

    With audience noise and conversation, the Moers Festival date sounds like a bootleg, but the music it contains more than justifies its inclusion. Once again there are no crowd pleasing riffs. This is substantive fare. On “Ocean” Hwang’s austere intro gives way to a rippling flute excursion over a loping beat, before the violinist demonstrates his progress with bold use of slashing strokes to create dynamic contrast within his flowing lines. As the temperature cools they segue into the collective simmering stew of “The Pathway.” Parker’s “Continuous” again confounds expectations at least initially, beginning with a pair of duets: a serene communing between bass and reedy bass clarinet, then ominous plucked violin paired with quiet percussion, presaging a somber theme, before picking up momentum for extended individual features over a fast clip.

    But again Hwang’s “Grassy Hills” provides the highlight of the set, drawing a strange and disconcerting bleating false fingered outburst from Connell on alto saxophone, before a wailing group improv. Another Parker cut, the singing then driving “Whole Grain” constitutes the encore demanded by the raucously enthusiastic crowd. An overly bright sound at times makes the live session a demanding listen, but the light it shines on the band’s development is invaluable. Sadly there were to be only a few more gigs before Commitment disbanded in 1984. It is to the credit of the No Business label that they are making such important music available, and with due care and consideration given as to how they can add value beyond a straight reissue.

  5. An incredible two-disc recording documenting the talented but under-represented Afro-Asian avant garde quartet that included reed player Will Connell, Waukegan-born violinist Jason Hwang Kao, bassist William Parker and drummer Zen Matsuura. Commitment recorded one self-titled album – generally unavailable for years – which has been remastered and included here, along with previously unheard concert recordings from a European tour. The group was active between 1978 and 1984, during the heyday of the New York’s Lower East Side loft scene, when a sense of comraderie prevailed amongst the musicians of all cultures who intermingled in the area. Promoting a belief that music is a “healing force,” this multi-cultural foursome has gone on to continue their musical explorations in various configurations, but this release is more than just a trip down memory lane – the music is vital and surprisingly fresh and modern. Combining Asian influences with African American jazz is not particularly unusual these days – especially in Chicago, where artists like Tatsu Aoki, Yoko Noge and Jeff Chen continue to merge boundaries, but when Commitment was starting up, it was revolutionary and steeped in the anger over the racism that both cultures had experienced. With the sound of the Watts riots still ringing in their ears, these musicians lashed out with a righteous ferocity that still seems startling. However, their aggression is tempered by their musicianship and sense of the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic components of music.

    Connell’s traditional jazz experience gives the music a melodic center; his flute playing especially creates a sense of wonder. Kao, meanwhile, brings in the Eastern sense of tonality and classical music directions, but he certainly isn’t afraid to mix it up – check out his hair-raising solo on “Ocean.” The duo had played together for a considerable time and their sense of interplay is breathtaking. Meanwhile, Matsuura shows he has studied powerhouse drummers like Max Roach and has a catalog of beats and sounds that easily moves across styles and cultures. Parker, of course, is noted for his innate almost primal way of approaching the bass as if it were not a separate instrument, but part of his body and soul itself. The interaction between the group members is highly organic, emotional and logical. The studio recorded material is simply brilliant – why this recording has been neglected is beyond me. On the other hand, the live recordings suffer slightly from sound quality – you can hear audience members obliviously chatting during the music – but is more than made up for by the power, feel and intelligence of the performances. This is avant garde jazz at its best and will provide hours of enjoyment for the open-minded listener.

  6. Commitment was a short lived but very interesting and unique jazz ensemble consisting of Will Connell on clarinet, flute and alto saxophone, William Parker on bass, Jason Kao Hwang on violin and viola and Zen Matsuura on drums. The group fused free-jazz with elements of music from the far east and in so doing investigated different textures of improvised music. This collection consists of their only studio album, released in 1981, and an hour and a half of previously unreleased live music recorded in Germany in 1983. “The Web of Forces” from the studio album features very strong and fast collective improvisation, with Connell taking the lead on alto saxophone and then developing a very exciting and powerful statement. Parker’s thick bass work is evident as is Matsuura’s rhythmic sense in developing a deft and strong drum solo. The haunting “Famine” echoes the dark sadness of the title with crawling violin, bowed bass and percussion and droning horn bleats. The music is a cry of pain, lost dignity and sadness, developing deep compassion and empathy for those who do without the most basic of necessities.

    “No Name” develops a free improvisational sensibility that is inspiring and powerful. Connell’s saxophone and Matsuura’s drums lock in and push and pull each other to greater and greater improvisational flights while Parker’s bass acts as the glue keeping the music from flying apart and plunging into the sun. A section of violin, bass and rolling drums follows, swooping fast, free and nimble and concluding with a powerful drum solo. “Ocean” slows the tempo down, featuring violin and flute with bass and light percussion in a slow and stately dance. Connell’s flute takes flight over a foundation of bass and drums before Hwang joins in with sawing and swooping stringed accents.

    “Continuous” is a very lengthy performance that allows the band in investigate some of the more abstract aspects of their music, using their instruments to probe space and time and the silence that surrounds them. “Grassy Hills, The Sun” goes even further into the investigation of sound, culminating in a section where bowed bass and violin conjure up an eerie and haunting motif that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Hitchcock film. “Whole Grain” brings the live performance to a close with some very exciting alto saxophone, soloing free and soaring against the rest of the band, before rejoining the group for some thrilling collective improvisation.

    This was a very enjoyable and interesting collection from a band that clearly did not receive their due. The lengthy and well written liner notes lay out the history of the band and the biographies of the members. This is a model re-issue, and will be of great enjoyment to fans of free and cross-cultural jazz.

  7. I don’t know how Lithuanian label No Business does it, but they have the knack to find back and re-issue amazing stuff. “Commitment” is the name of a band which released only one obscure album, in 1980, and which consists of William Parker on bass, Jason Kao Hwang on violin, Will Connell Jr on flute and alto and Takeshi Zen Matsuura on drums. An unusual line-up, with the unusual mix of Asian and African American musicians. At that time, William Parker was twenty-eight, and Jason Kao Hwang only twenty-three. The original album was released on Hwang’s own Flying Panda label. In the label’s good tradition, there is a lengthy booklet that gives all the necesseary background.

    The first CD captures the five tracks of the original LP. The music is free-flowing, with slow themes setting the scene for lengthy improvisations and communal creation of sound. The first piece is typical, with a slow, somewhat solemn theme, which evolves in all four musicians improvising together, with Parker on arco, resulting in an intimate and light-footed interplay, slowly fading, leaving the original theme well behind them. The second piece is uptempo, with Parker’s bass vamp quite recognizable, and Connell fierce on alto, and Matsuura gets ample time for a drums solo.

    “Famine”, is a staggering composition, with a very sparse discomforting sound environment created by Parker and Hwang working around the same tonal center, gradually increasing the intensity without creating variation, well illustrating and expressing the title of the piece.

    The fourth track is again dark, slow and contemplative, with a slowly evolving unison theme. Again the sense of pace and tension is fantastic. Connell’s soloing has a remarkable continuity in timbre and expressivity to Hwang’s preceding soloing, with both Matsuura and Parker adding to the piece’s minimalism in their solos.

    “No Name”, the last track of the original LP, is a longer work-out, based on a theme which could have come from Ornette Coleman.

    As of track 6, the music was not released before, and is the recording of a performance of the band in 1983. The sound quality is a little less, at moments even doubtfull, yet the music is again a great gift to all of us. There is a little less unity in the performance, chaos reigns at times, voices from the audience sound louder than the band during quiet moments, etc, but despite all that, we should be grateful to have this music available for all to hear. The live performance has some stellar moments, like Connell’s haunting flute-playing on “Ocean”, a mid-tempo hypnotic piece with some middle-eastern influences.

    The most remarkable aspect of the whole album is Hwang’s violin playing. Like on many of his own albums as a leader, he is not a man of many notes – already then – but someone who so easily finds the right notes, he can stretch them and create his own unusual sound.

    Three decades later, we can only be amazed that these young musicians already had some of the great musical personalities and vision that they expanded on during the years to follow, stubbornly sticking to what they learned during the haydays of the loft period in New York, yet adding character, power and expressiveness over the years. But it’s all here, already then : the freedom, the spirituality, but also their typical approach to get more of their instruments than artists had done before.

    It’s not a masterpiece, far from it, but what a joy to hear, and have it back for us, fans of good music, and hopefully available for some more decades to come.

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