A very gentle earthquake
Ayman Fanous
Jason Kao Hwang
Ayman Fanous
Jason Kao Hwang
Catalog Number: 
acoustic guitar
Middle Eastern

Centreville, VA

Release Date: 
Nov 19, 2013
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
One Sheet: 

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.


"The flamenco and classical guitar roots of Fanous are paired perfectly with the evocative flights of fancy demonstrated by Hwang … Zilzal is built on passion both to the extreme and to the minimalist perspective … to venture into the cultural extremes as exhibited within Zilzal and make the music accessible to a broad based audience is simply amazing." [FULL ARTICLE]
Brent Black

"If [this music] is beautiful, it is the beauty of awe. At times it is wistful, at times wildly screeching. At times the musicians complement each other, at times they seem to be at war. At times one steps front and center, at times the other. This is … music that is on the edge of the future. It is music that needs to be heard and explored." [FULL ARTICLE]
Jack Goodstein

"Ayman Fanouz and violinist Jason Kao Hwang quickly turn expectations upside down, extracting the ingredients from tradition, deconstructing forms and re-integrating them in another kind of beauty. ... This is music with ambition. Ambitions of beauty, artistic ambitions, for new forms of sounds, new ways to express things, full of emotional depth, with emotions that are too complex to be canvassed in old forms, too elusive to be captured in patterns, too deep to be expressed in shallow tunes." [FULL ARTICLE]

"The longer pieces … are both the most deeply-traditioned and melodic, with Fanous using the bouzouki’s humming resonance to stretch deeply into Middle-Eastern and Indian terrain, treating the instrument like an oud or sitar to create an environment around the sustained pathos of Hwang’s melodies. A series of short pieces … sound improvised, mysterious encounters that focus on guitar harmonics and violin-string abrasions while the title track finds a middle ground, developing abstract lines rooted in the idiomatic timbres of flamenco guitar and gypsy violin."
Stuart Broomer

“From the opening moments of this disc, one can tell this is something special. The resonant tones of Fanous' oud ring out and over it, Hwang etches a baleful melody on viola with a rich, burnished tone. … [T]he way [Fanous and Hwang] draw on their respective cultures informs the music with a unique quality. … Each track has something of merit and taken as a whole, this is one of the finest duet recordings I've heard in recent memory.”
Robert Iannapollo