Linda May Han Oh’s prolific career never ceases to amaze, and her ability to keep raising the bar every step of the way is nothing short of remarkable. Widely regarded as one of the luminaries of the current New York City jazz scene, which, let’s face it, serves as the de facto gold standard for the rest of the world, Oh has been on a rapid ascent which has shown no sign of abating.
The young bassist voted 2019 Up and Coming Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association made her way across the Canadian border to honor the Montreal International Jazz Festival with a free outdoor performance at its new Verdun satellite site on June 30th. Joining Oh on the trip was a monumental line-up of juggernauts, an all-star band of sorts, comprised of Ben Wendel on tenor saxophone, Fabian Almazan on piano, Matthew Stevens on guitar and Rudy Royston on drums, three of which appear on Oh’s penultimate record Walk Against Wind, Nextbop’s Favorite Album of 2017.
Although the weather leaned on the gloomy side, the band took to the stage with authority kicking things off with a blistering rendition of “Yoda,” a composition off Oh’s 2013 Greenleaf Music album Sun Pictures. The musicians proceeded to trade fours as a collective, in lieu of individual solos, continually developing collective ideas and playing off each other’s licks in a constant state of one-upmanship. This would set the tone for the hour to come, exhilarating technical proficiency, magisterial aplomb, overbearing confidence, and limitless imagination by all.
The set continued, consisting primarily of selections from the aforementioned Walk Against Wind including a particularly inspired interpretation of “Firedancer” during which Almazan transcended a one-note syncopated pattern into a full-fledged improvisation complete with Byzantine runs and discordant electronic sound effects leading Wendel and Stevens to shake their heads in disbelief while exchanging glowing smiles with one another.
Oh picked up a turquoise electric bass for the second half of the set, in accord with Stevens’ baby blue Moollon T classic, reprising most melodies simultaneously on vocals. The sun finally broke out of the clouds as “Speech Impediment” ended, illuminating the musicians vividly. Too cool for school, Wendel pulled out a pair of shades which he wore with flair and bravado for the remainder of the set.
Oh is both a gifted composer and a skillful arranger with a unique ability to interweave bits and pieces of melodies and accompaniments, constantly shifting around the lead from one instrument to another, in an act of bona fide dynamism and verve. The group’s performance was breathtaking, bordering on flawless, exhibiting genuine chemistry and astonishing artistry. Wendel and Stevens were dominant with their slew of assertive and exhilarating solos. This was truly a momentous gift to the knowledgeable connoisseurs who carefully scrutinized this year’s free outdoor programming. The next time Oh comes to town, the festival will be rolling out the red carpet for her.
Sébastien Hélary co-founded Nextbop in 2009 with the objective of introducing modern jazz music to a younger generation of fans. Aside from music, his other main obsession is food, particularly ramen and other Japanese delicacies.