Before bringing the Linda Oh Quartet out for the Skidmore Jazz Institute’s second major-artist concert, Institute director Todd Coolman told us about meeting Oh a few years before at an educators’ conference, and knowing from that meeting that Oh had what it took to make it big in the genre. “In fact,” he added, “I think her dream is just beginning.” Given that she’s already scored two documentaries and worked with monsters like Dave Douglas and Slide Hampton, it’s safe to say that the Malaysian-born, Australia-raised bass player dreams seriously huge; what’s more, she’s got the skills to make that dream a reality.
Oh opened her all-new-music set with an in-the-clear meditation, making the Ladd Theatre’s acoustics vibrate as she slid the notes on one figure just enough to give it dissonance. We were all completely locked in when Eric McPherson rapped a drum stick against the frame of his high-hat, launching a groove that birthed the complex melody of “Number One Hit.” Reedman Joel Frahm and pianist David Virelles harmonized on the staccato foundation before Frahm took his tenor sax on a lively, bouncing journey. Virelles responded in kind with an off-kilter solo that was completely in keeping with the piece’s fragmented sense. McPherson was keeping it simple by making his job difficult, using all of his kit to merely embellish rather than dominate.
Oh seems to physically pulse as she plays, eyes closed, totally locked into the moment. Her solos are like her compositions – strong, unafraid, and content-rich. You listen to the multi-faceted lyrics as they pour out of her upright bass, and all you can do is marvel. Anyone can write a tribute to Charles Mingus (Well, okay, maybe not anyone…), but Oh’s “Mr. M” comes from a place of sincere gratitude for everything the mercurial Mingus brought to jazz, both creatively and instrumentally. Oh’s own creative influences are many and varied: Her two-year old niece’s unfettered laughter was the basis for the delightfully unhinged “Deeper than Happy”, while “Alternate Persona” was inspired by the surrealistic Ingmar Bergman film “Persona.” We also got an idea of Oh’s classical sense – as well as her deconstructive expertise – from her eye-popping takes on Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Something’s Coming.”
Oh played in a trio format when she rocked the gazebo stage at Freihofer’s Jazz Festival last year, but this latest configuration is what we’ll hear on her new disc, which should be out in October. It’s too bad these musicians won’t appear on the disc, because they were sterling on this night. Frahm’s been up this way before, but unlike last year’s appearance at Lake George with Samuel Torres’ big group, we were able to fully appreciate the range and authority Frahm can serve up when you give him room to move. Virelles’ dizzying piano playing was reminiscent of the first time I saw Brad Mehldau: In both cases, I thought, “This is a name to remember, because I’m going to hear it a lot in the future.” McPherson spent most of every tune embellishing and embroidering, giving each piece just enough to be distinctive; he owned every rideout, though, and the explosiveness he conjured up on “Something’s Coming” was absolutely nuclear.
Before closing the 90-minute set, Oh gave an enthusiastic shout-out to the Jazz Institute students she’d met at her master class that afternoon, saying they were proof jazz “has such a great future!” Even without those students, one can only listen to Linda Oh and believe the genre’s future looks pretty spiffing.
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Albert Brooks’ photographs at AlbanyJazz.com
THE LINDA OH QUARTET SET LIST
Number One Hit
Deeper than Happy
Deeper than Sad