Live review

Linda May Han Oh (2020 EFG LJF)

Linda May Han Oh
(Stream premiered on 18 November 2020. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Alison Bentley)

Linda May Han Oh. Screenshot

“It’s like a really cool puzzle you’re trying to figure out.” Bassist Linda May Han Oh talked in an interview about improvisation, and the importance of how a group interacts. Her quartet’s improvisations were intensely creative, and her compositions were both cerebral and emotional. This gig was streamed from Perth, Western Australia, where Oh was brought up. She and pianist Fabian Almazan now live in New York, (she was back in Perth as she was “a little bit pregnant”) and were joined here by Australians Jamie Oehlers on tenor and Ben Vanderwal on drums.

I last heard her with Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas- Oh has toured with some of the greats, from Geri Allen to Pat Metheny, so it was fascinating to hear her own music. Yoda was full of complex intervals and almost calypso rhythms, and very playful. Several pieces featured instruments trading 8s or more from the start, rather than long individual solos. It made the band seem very collaborative, as if we were part of a continual dialogue. Oehlers’ sax and Almazan’s piano became increasingly inventive. Yoda enjoyed it he would have.

Oh moved to 5-string electric bass for Lilac and Perpluzzle, broadening the dreamy texture with her wordless vocals, a little like Luciana Souza. There was no sense of perplexity in Perpluzzle– a little funkiness among the daring time signature, and an incredibly agile bass solo. Sumptuous piano with spacey overtones opened Speech Impediment; it became a slow lolloping tango, stuttering a little here and there. Oehlers played the theme drily in contrast with the dramatic piano sweeps. The central riff sped up and slowed down precariously as Vanderwal’s drums let rip and the whole thing began again more freely. Vanderwal sounded like a child rooting around happily in a box of toys.

The Noise of Us began with arco double bass, part oriental folk tune, part Seven Steps to Heaven. Dissonant harmonies were fleshed out by piano and Oh on mini synth keyboard. It was tautly written with a loose Latin groove and quirky moments, and a euphoric piano solo. The bass solo was a revelation, and from that point on it was the bass solos I was listening out for- her total commitment and beautiful tone. (She’s spoken about studying with Ron Carter, who told her to play less forcefully and focus on the quality of the sound.) Deepsea Dancers was written for Oh’s late manager, who encouraged her to collaborate with Korean musicians. It had an Eastern feel, “a melody that winds and repeats itself.” They took turns to solo over the theme, Oehlers’ tone particularly rich and Lovano-like, till chord harmonies filtered surprisingly through at the end. Circles was convoluted with robust gunshot drums, the sax bringing shape to the wildness of the chord sequence. Each took several short solos as they circled round each other, increasingly free and daring.

This was truly original writing, with enough of the familiar to hook you in, and enough new to keep you intrigued, brought to life by four incredible musicians.

LINK: Linda May Han Oh at the EFG London Jazz Festival

Categories: Live review

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