Linda May Han Oh at the Village Vanguard 4/20/18 (by Kazemde George)

PERSONNEL: Linda May Han Oh (acoustic and electric bass), Ben Wendel (tenor saxophone), Matt Stevens (guitar), Fabian Almazan (piano), Rudy Royston (drums)

SET LIST: Blue Over Gold, Yoda, Deepsea Dancers, Speech Impediment, Perpluzzle, Western, Walk Against the Wind (all by Oh)

HIGHLIGHTS:  Oh’s composition “Speech Impediment” effectively brought to life the story of someone with a stutter struggling to say “ I Love You.”

For her debut as a leader at the Vanguard, Linda May Han Oh’s band played several songs from the recent Walk Against the Wind as well as some older pieces. Oh’s compositions utilize rhythmic ostinatos and rich harmonies, with strong tonal centers to clearly define an emotional space while still allowing unprescribed free improvisation.

“Blue Over Gold” began with a contemplative mood established with a 2-note bassline on eighth-notes, harmonized by piano and guitar and eventually saxophone. Several of Oh’s songs utilized similar 2-note rhythmic patterns as a way of creating rhythmic complexity and establishing harmonic centers. Royston played a double-time feel which propelled the band into the main theme for the song, with Wendel playing the melody over the top of the rhythm section’s accentuations of beats 1, 2, 4, and 5 in a 7-beat cycle. A short bridge recapitulated the bassline from the introduction as a melodic feature, and solos took place over the hits of the 7-beat framework. Wendel ran through some double-time lines, and brought the energy up with some gritty altissimo screams before handing off to Stevens. The guitar solo drew most of its energy directly from the rhythm section, ornamenting the groove set up by Oh and Royston. Oh took a solo as well; she moved deftly through different ranges of the bass playing mostly eighth-notes, and seemed to play modally and melodically rather than truly outline each chord.

“Speech Impediment” began with an improvised solo piano introduction by Almazan. He immediately established the use of repeated notes, a kind of jerky phrasing represented of a person with a stutter. Eventually he subsided into a quiet and reflective 2-chord vamp. The rest of the band entered, with the melody being carried by Wendel and Stevens who each interpreted its rhythms slightly differently, adding to the stuttering effect. The theme of repeated melody notes continued in the next section which had a backbeat with one eighth note missing every few measures, and alternated between two different tempos. The band then abandoned structure and descended into a slightly dissonant and muted free improvisation, with Stevens creating ambient textures and exchanging sharp stabs with Almazan, while Oh played a low drone, and the rest of the band added ornaments. Eventually, everyone melted away leaving only Royston to continue playing for an extended drum solo.

Overall this set featured a great balance of virtuosity and emotional connection. Oh’s tunes could be abstract and complex at times, but they also delivered several satisfying moments using direct and conventional approaches.

by Kazemde George