Linda May Han Oh Quartet
(Pizza Express Soho. 12 November 2022. Review by Jon Turney)
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A slow string bass groove deep enough to sink into, embroidered from the drums, was an immediately seductive, no-nonsense start to this riveting early show at a sold-out Pizza Express. By the time Linda May Han Oh and Jeff Ballard – an orchestra in themselves – were joined by intense exchanges between Greg Ward’s alto sax and Matthew Stevens’ guitar it was clear we could sit back and enjoy a pretty special group.
Special partly because of the leader, who has a sparkling presence on the bass and a stash of characterful compositions and arrangements. After the somewhat abstract urgency of the opener, Halo, she introduced a clutch of pieces – some old and some new ones destined for release next year – that displayed a rare gift for musical matching of title, concept, and composition. Lucid Lullaby really has that quality; Circles, titled with dissatisfaction in mind, has a nagging repetition in the nonetheless catchy melody; Fire Dance conjured up the street scene it refers to via a powerful duet for bass and hand-drumming and another long excursion blending guitar and sax; and Speech Impediment had a properly hesitant saxophone line with the leader complementing her electric bass with an eloquent wordless vocal.
Stevens favours brittle chording and, less often, more fluid single note lines; Ward – who one fancies nods to Chicago luminaries like Threadgill and Steve Coleman among many influences on his alto playing – can conjure a new melody at will or edge into freer terrain for dramatic effect. Add the deep-rooted understanding between the bassist and the comparative veteran of the four Jeff Ballard, who adds gravitas from the drum stool, and this is a formidable quartet.
A flawless eighty minutes of music: just one of fifty performances the three Pizza Express venues are offering during the London festival, but a real gem.
Categories: Live reviews