Zilzal is the Arabic word for “earthquake,” and there couldn’t be a more fitting word to describe the collision of musical worlds on the debut album by the duo of guitarist Ayman Fanous and violinist Jason Hwang. Forged in New York’s downtown music scene of the late 1990s, this duo has developed a unique improvisational language that spans many streams of musical culture, aesthetics, and compositional philosophy. In its intercultural egalitarianism, it could only have been made in America.
Fanous came to free improvisation by way of flamenco and classical guitar. Unlike more academic manifestations of improvised music, these traditions have always been full of energy and emotional force. By yoking the expansive techniques of these demanding guitaristic approaches to a contemporary aesthetic, Fanous has developed a unique voice. It is full of both fiery virtuosity and harmolodic openness and complexity. To this combustible mix, Fanous adds a number of extended techniques to create a rich tapestry of textures and colors. While the guitar is Fanous’ primary instrument, he also reaches back into his Egyptian ancestry in improvisations on the bouzouki, an instrument which intimates the musical spirit of cultures from Central and South Asia to the Middle East, Balkans, and North Africa.
Jason Kao Hwang’s violin and viola explores the music of life within the resonance of each moment, which streams incessantly from future to past. His improvisations journey upon an inward, evolutionary road that rises through and transcends his cultural, historical and emotional inheritance to inspire outward vibrations of greater giving. By cultivating an individual voice, empathic listening, and faith in the expressivity of all sounds, Hwang believes the harvest of human potential and good is infinite.
Beautifully recorded by Sal Mormando and mastered by Grammy-winner Silas Brown, these improvisations were performed with no prior musical planning. But Fanous and Hwang have become so well-attuned to each other’s gestures, moods, and trajectories that sometimes the music can sound through-composed. Figure and ground give way to each other seamlessly, and at times meld into one and the same. The pieces range from the lyrical and jazzy, to the fiery, the melancholic and contemplative, and to rhythmic abandon. Throughout the recording, Fanous and Hwang employ the full palettes available to them, resulting in a music that is at once orchestral, cinematic, spontaneous, and at all times, visceral.
In short, this is contemporary instrumental music of great beauty, depth, energy, and sensitivity. It represents a snapshot of the complexities, richness, anxieties, exuberances, and polyglot accommodations of 21st century American life.