Linda Oh Airs Out Her Songbook at the Jazz Standard
Some bassists make their living by tirelessly walking scales. Linda Oh is not one of them. As a supporting player – notably in Dave Douglas’ quintet – she’s a close listener, every bit as much a melodic presence as a rhythmic one. Last night at the Jazz Standard, leading a quartet, it was all about Linda Oh the tunesmith, and she is a brilliant one. The hooks and the melody lept and danced from her four strings, venturing animatedly from that deep well as she and the band celebrated the release of her latest album Sun Pictures. Guitarist Matt Stevens spun his volume knob both ways for subtle, misty chords and insistently kinetic single-note runs as tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens added gentle late-afternoon colors and the occasional flurry of bop over drummer Rudy Royston’s intricate, pointillistic, often wryly scurrying shuffles. Royston and Oh in particular share a deep camaraderie which in this unit frees him to serve as colorist while the bass anchors the music.
Oh knows that hooks are simple; much as there was a lot going on in the band, the music was uncluttered. Her measuredly bounding solo intro set the table for the night’s opening number, Yoda, Stephens following her lead, carefree, Stevens hinting at bossa nova, Royston supplying an incessantly nimble, funky rustle over Oh’s subtle, lithe variations on a three-note chromatic riff. The song title isn’t meant to evoke anything related to Star Wars; it’s a tribute to Oh’s older sister. The night’s second number worked off an even simpler hook, a leaping vamp that worked its way subtly to an understated clave, Oh’s judicious solo over nebulous washes and carefully positioned shades from the guitar. A lot of bassists like to mimic a horn line, but here Oh’s pointedly good-natured incisions had the bite of a piano as Royston rode the traps and the cymbals.
The evening’s third number built intensity with a long suspeneseful intro, Oh’s pulse taut against its harmonic edges, Royston riding the traps again and eventually pushing it upward with a long, flurrying crescendo, Stephens winding it down gracefully at the end. After that, Oh led them through swaying, understatedly funky variations on a four-chord hook that subtly grew even more minimalistic, through a judicious Stevens solo that went from lingering to sparkling, Stephens goodnaturedly fluttering and exploring, Oh bringing everything into focus with her spaciously nuanced staccato attack. She and Royston had great mysterious fun building to doublespeed on Polyphonic HMI (a sardonic reference to the algorithms created to help corporate music execs predict pop hits) from its bright opening hooks, Stevens’ deftly spaced chords holding the center. They wound up their first set with Shutter Images, the groove-driven tone poem that opens the album, Stephens adding a wistful edge over the hypnotically tense throb of the guitar and bass.
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