REVIEW: Linda May Han Oh Quintet at L'Astrada (Jazz In Marciac)

Linda May Han Oh
Photo credit: Shervin Lainez

Linda May Han Oh Quintet with special guest Chris Potter
L’Astrada, Jazz In Marciac, 31 July 2017. Review by Gail Tasker

The seats were sold out in Marciac’s L’Astrada, with everyone keen to catch New York-based bassist Linda May Han Oh and her band. Positioned centre stage amidst her musicians, she cut a somewhat diminutive figure next to her instrument. Yet, she more than made up for it in energy and attitude. With a nod from her, the group launched into the first piece of the night. It was just the beginning, but Rudy Royston worked up a sweat on the drums in his solo, shaking the audience awake from the lulls of the contemporary classical quartet who featured in the previous set. To the bassist’s right, guitarist Matthew Stevens added to the atmosphere with a set of pedals, experimenting with distortion and delay. Fabian Almazan was on piano, with Ben Wendel and Chris Potter sharing the frontline on tenor saxophones.

Oh impressively introduced all the pieces in French to the delight of her listeners. All the tunes are contained in her latest album Walk Against Wind on the eco-friendly label Biophilio. She even managed to translate the title for the second composition Speech Impediment. In this piece, the main melody was shared by Potter, Wendel, and Stevens in staggered fashion, evoking the act of stuttering. Oh underscored with a mellow, descending figure on electric bass, which apart from a frenzied middle section, was a comforting constant throughout. Memorably, Almazan illustrated the subject of the composition more than competently in his improvisation, blurring the lines between jazz and classical.

With certain compositions of hers such as Perpuzzle and Walk Against Wind, Oh added another layer to the texture by vocalising the melodic line alongside the two tenors. She also switched adeptly between double bass and electric bass, preferring the latter instrument for the second half of the set. Potter also proved his multi-instrumental capabilities by switching between tenor saxophone and bass clarinet.

Oh’s fun side was displayed through the titles of some of her pieces, with the tune Yoda being inspired by Star Wars and Spaghetti by Spaghetti Western films. In Yoda, the intensity increased slightly as Stevens, Almazan, Potter and Wendel traded bars. There was a remarkable mix of symbiosis and competition, as each player took on an element from the previous solo and developed it further. There was also the rare treat of witnessing Potter and Wendel take on a joint solo together in Spaghetti, with the idiosyncratic styles of each individual being made even more obvious.

The combination of Oh’s metrically tricky compositions and high standard of playing, with the added ingredient of the exceptional Chris Potter, led to an overall remarkable jazz experience.


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