Live review

Linda May Han Oh Quartet at Pizza Express Soho (2022 EFG LJF) 

Linda May Han Oh Quartet

(Pizza Express Soho. 12 November 2022. Review by Jon Turney) 

Linda May Han Oh. Photo courtesy of Alan Hayward

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. 

LINK: Linda May Han Oh’s website

Categories: Live review

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