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Jason Kao Hwang / Ayman Fanous: Zilzal (2013)

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Jason Kao Hwang / Ayman Fanous: Zilzal How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

The music forged by Egyptian guitarist/bouzouki player Ayman Fanous and violinist/violist Jason Kao Hwang is alternately thoughtful, prickly, exasperating, mournful, and enchanting. It speaks to mysteries and histories, capturing and refracting the shared language, cross-cultural references, and mystic vibes that these two men have been cultivating and exploring together for fifteen years.

"Zilzal" is the Arabic word for "earthquake," but the music on Zilzal doesn't always rumble and rupture the ground. Peaceful prayers ("Nilometer At Roda") can lead to moments of uncertainty ("DNA: Untranslated" and "DNA: Messenger, The Message"), and storms sometimes part at the last second to let the sun sneak in ("Zilzal"). There's no shortage of cage-rattling moments but they don't overwhelm or completely define this album.

Picked peculiarities and graceful arco lines merge in wonderful ways as this duo creates a hybridized form of music that draws in as much as it gives off; logic and absurdity, peace and war, congruence and discord, and hopefulness and depravity play a part in this production. The pair isn't always able to rectify these feelings that live worlds apart, but they are able to blur the lines between them, creating something that exists in a very different space.

Several pieces herein can be grating and challenging, but they always have a payoff; "Lapwing," for example, strikes plenty of nerves but gives way to a moment of serenity at the end. It's this journey from point A to point B that makes this piece, and many of the others, so compelling.

The duo of Ayman Fanous and Jason Kao Hwang doesn't shy away from anything. It's a partnership built on mutual respect, conviction, and a yearning for truth in sound. Zilzal says that in inimitable fashion.

Track Listing: Nilometer at Roda; DNA: Untranslated; DNA: Messenger, the Message; Zilzal; Mausoleum of Beybars the Crossbowman; DNA: Binding Sights; Lapwing; Darb al-Arbaeen; Tree of the Virgin at Matariya.

Personnel: Ayman Fanous: guitar (2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8), bouzouki (1, 5, 9); Jason Kao Hwang: violin (2, 3, 5, 7, 9), viola (1, 4, 6, 8).

Record Label: Innova Recordings

Style: Modern Jazz


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