Linda Oh – Initial Here – Greenleaf Music

by | Jun 1, 2012 | Jazz CD Reviews

Linda Oh – Initial Here – Greenleaf Music GRE-1024, 57:58 ****:
(Linda Oh – acoustic and electric bass, bassoon; Dayna Stephens – tenor saxophone; Fabian Almazan – piano, Fender Rhodes, melodica; Rudy Royston – drums; Jen Shyu – vocals (track 5), Christian Howes – strings (track 6))
Bassist Linda Oh’s first solo outing, Entry (self-issued in 2010), did not get the attention the young artist deserves, but Oh’s second solo release, Initial Here certainly should: it’s out now in high-quality digital download and audio CD via Dave Douglas’ Greenleaf imprint. This review refers to the CD. Oh was born in Malaysia, raised in Western Australia and now calls New York City home; along the way she was educated in both classical and jazz music. On stage and in the studio, she provides robustness on both acoustic and electric bass: she is commanding and challenging, and produces music with drive and determination.
For her new, ten-track, hour-long program Oh created a quintet which features tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens (who has recorded with guitarist Julian Lage, pianist Taylor Eigsti and others), keyboardist Fabian Almazan (who also adds Fender Rhodes) and drummer Rudy Royston (a veteran who has worked with Ron Miles, Ben Allison, Bill Frisell and others). Almazan and Oh are longtime friends who were students at the Manhattan School of Music (Oh is also a member of Almazan’s current trio).
Initial Here has a more integrated sound than Entry, merges a modern outlook with obvious influences from traditional jazz and classical, and has a unifying theme of family. Oh’s Asian legacy surfaces on several memorable pieces. The funky carefree “Deeper than Happy” is dedicated to Oh’s infant niece and the young girl’s delighted reaction to a favorite television cartoon. During the stop-start arrangement, Oh’s upfront electric bass is flexible, slippery and percussive, while Royston churns along on the drum kit. Almazan delivers a soulful 1970s-styled undercurrent with Fender Rhodes and Stephens reveals personal inspirations such as Joe Henderson and Michael Brecker. The euphoric “Desert Island Dream” echoes the optimism of an immigrant’s hope for a better life, specifically when Oh’s family moved from Malaysia to Australia when Oh was three years old. Oh opens with a bass riff reminiscent of alt-rockers Nirvana. Then the cut shifts to straight-ahead jazz with a fusion linkage, with more of Almazan’s playful Fender Rhodes and Royston’s slightly musing and amused tenor sax. Oh’s Australian upbringing is also reflected during the similar “Little House,” about the home her family found in a new country. There is a minor wistfulness which underlies this mid-tempo number, highlighted by Stephens’ amber-toned tenor. There is an unexpected rousing climax with massed strings supplied by Christian Howes, which hints at some of Oh’s commissioned projects which combine a jazz quartet with a string quartet. The most surprising moment, however, belongs to the solemn duet “Thicker than Water,” a collaboration with Mandarin/English singer Jen Shyu, whose credits include the avant-garde/Latin jazz ensemble Positive Catastrophe. The classically-tinged piece (which features Oh doubling on bassoon and bowed bass) is a tribute to Oh’s grandmother and other female forebears and reiterates the emotional upheaval of entire families relocating to different strange environs.
Oh’s classical and jazz education coalesce on a noteworthy medley which blends a fast-paced interpretation of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story tune “Something’s Coming” (covered by everyone from Stan Kenton to prog-rockers Yes) with Igor Stravinsky’s “Les Cinq Doigts.” Although Oh’s version of the Bernstein hit was inspired by an adaptation by pianist Ran Blake and vocalist Jeanne Lee, Oh’s instrumental take is markedly more feverish. Almazan’s acoustic piano has a staccato sensibility while Stephens’ melodic timbre and Coltrane-ish turbulence bring to mind a youthful Wayne Shorter. Oh and Royston furnish a stellar mid-tune bass/drums duet. The free-flowing arrangement ebbs at the end and glides tastefully into the Stravinsky refrain. The only other cover is a softly-suffused reading of Duke Ellington’s oft-done “Come Sunday,” which retains a hymn-like quality but is otherwise thoroughly contemporary, with deft interplay between Oh, Almazan and Stephens. Oh concludes with the melancholy “Deeper than Sad,” a pensive closer which has a mournful ambiance which nevertheless contains a dissonant display, which showcases Oh’s ability to be both graceful and alternatingly aggressive. Interested readers who want more information can watch a brief, promotional video with interviews which have some background on Oh and her latest record.
TrackList: Ultimate Persona; Something’s Coming/Les Cinq Doigts; Mr M; No. 1 Hit; Thicker than Water; Little House; Deeper than Happy; Desert Island Dream; Come Sunday; Deeper than Sad.
—Doug Simpson

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