Linda May Han Oh – ‘Aventurine’ (Album Review)

Every time bassist Linda May Han Oh releases an album, it’s always filled to the brim with beat and soul. Her compositions have the complex ideas one would expect of contemporary jazz, but there’s always a sensibility that this is music it had to reach the audience, it has to make the toes tap. She never loses sight of how to reach people with all she has to say. It’s this inherent ability as a composer and arranger, let alone with her prowess on the bass, that has made all of her solo releases so timeless. The same can definitely be said with her fourth album as a leader, Aventurine, out tomorrow on Biophilia Records.

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The album features folks like saxophonist Greg Ward; pianist Matt Mitchell; violinists Fung Chern Hwei and Sarah Caswell; violist Bennie Von Gutzeit; cellist Jeremy Harman; and drummer/vibraphonist Ches Smith. This is a different group than her previous compatriots. Oh has worked with Mitchell in Dave Douglas’ quintet for some years; Ward has toured with Oh in her quartet and quintet with her previous work. There’s overlap here and familiarity, but also something grander and bolder here, something with the album’s namesake’s shimmering “aventurescence” in expanding this sound into an octet including strings.

“Kirigami”, a song Oh has had in her back pocket since 2016, is an beautifully exquisite banger. A steady unrelenting beat saws away at the soul’s defenses, whether by strings (particularly in their closing, when all else has fallen away), or Ches Smith’s drumming. It’s one of the most beautiful songs on the album, though not by a far extent, everything here astounds.

“Song Yue Rao (Moon In The Pines)” is a lively, inventive take on the traditional Chinese song, calling its spirit while infusing it with this ensemble’s distinct voice. As the rondo progresses, weaving patterns and getting into a good boogie, the song takes new form.

It’s true all over the album, but it’s no more evident than on “Ebony” why Greg Ward is so good on intricate projects like these. On his own 2016’s Touch My Beloved’s Thought, he led his large ensemble, 10 Tongues, with charm, respect for the past and an eye for the future, while still giving his voice on the saxophone space to shine. His prominence at the head of “Ebony” is the wind beneath the rest of this band’s wings.

In her fourth album, Oh continues to compose and play with a storytelling sensibility while never forgetting there essence of the beat that carries it all along. With more strings to manage than just her own, Oh evokes a larger, smoother sound to create new, wide brush strokes with which to paint this masterpiece. Of course, that’s no surprise. Linda May Han Oh always comes correct in her body of work, and she’s picked the right ensemble to make it happen once again.

Aventurine, the new large ensemble album from bassist/composer Linda May Han Oh, is out May 17th on Biophilia Records. It’s available for pre-order now.

Linda May Han Oh – acoustic/electric bass, compositions/arrangements
Greg Ward – alto/soprano saxophone
Fung Chern Hwei – violin
Sarah Caswell – violin
Bennie Von Gutzeit – viola
Jeremy Harman – cello
Matt Mitchell – piano
Ches Smith – drums/vibraphone