Vermont Jazz Center Presents: 2023 Grammy Winner Linda May Han Oh and her Quartet
The Vermont Jazz Center will present Grammy Award-winning bassist Linda May Han Oh’s Quartet on Saturday, March 18th at 7:30 PM. She will be performing her beautifully complex, original music with Australian saxophonist Troy Roberts, Cuban-American pianist Fabian Almazan, and New York-based Eric Doob on the drums. VJC audience members were astounded by May Han Oh’s propelling, precise basslines and oneness with the instrument at last month’s concert (February 18, 2023) when May Han Oh performed before a standing-ovation crowd with drummer Johnathan Blake’s Trion. The Wall Street Journal claims that May Han Oh’s “innovative range and stellar improvisations have made [her] one of the most dynamic rising stars in jazz today.”
This month Linda May Han Oh will be performing with her working quartet, presenting her celebrated compositional vision: epic journeys of sound that thrive on a paradox of rhythmical grooves that are simultaneously meticulous and flowing. Her music is propelled by surprising patterns that May Han Oh dances to while performing. Hidden, gem-like melodies are diffused by polyrhythmic drumming and enhanced by wide ranging dynamics. Listening to her music sometimes feels as if the listener is being taken on a guided tour of a three-dimensional landscape: each composition lays out a series of joined ecosystems with twists and unexpected turns. For example, the music sometimes evokes the feeling of speeding along a flattened plane when—without warning—one leaps off a cliff into the vast wind.
One of May Han Oh’s many skills is her ability to create a wide variety of sonic textures using a minimal number of instruments. This is accomplished by sometimes giving tasks to unanticipated voices – like long tones for the saxophone while the melody is being played in unison by the bass and drums. Her arrangements sometimes develop by giving each instrument a separate ostinato (repetitive figure). This organized weave of contrapuntal lines played in trance-like fashion, slowly morphs until all the melodies come together. When this fusion of disparate ideas finally merge into unison, it generates a rollercoaster-like response in in the listeners’ belly, an experience of the true resolution from dissonance to consonance, from tension to release. Simply put, May Han Oh is a composer who masterfully uses a unique set of techniques to create sonic worlds unlike anything listeners have ever experienced.
It is significant to note that May Han Oh has been influenced by a wide range of musical genres including jazz (listen to her deconstruction of Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave” on Adventurine), hard rock (her introduction to the electric bass was playing tunes by Led Zeppelin and Rage Against the Machine) and western classical music (her most recent album, Adventurine is a double string quartet). In an NPR Favorite Sessions piece, Josh Jackson surveys her polymath tendencies and notes her strict development as a classical musician, her use of a Red Hot Chili Peppers tune, “Soul to Squeeze, ” on her first album Entry, and the influence of bassist Dave Holland and North Indian classical music on her playing. He quotes May Han Oh; “[I] spent a year transcribing [legendary jazz bassist] Dave Holland solos and writing a dissertation tying North Indian classical rhythms to his playing… It was great for me to apply these concepts rhythmically to my own playing.”
When we realize the huge impact that North Indian polyrhythms have had on May Han Oh’s development, we become aware that the use of the skillsets germane that music are a constant, yet hidden thread that unites her concept as both a player and composer. Odd-metered patterns played precisely, yet with beautiful phrasing, are a hallmark of North Indian music and May Han Oh utilizes these features in her own writing and playing. She demonstrates her uncanny ability to naturally feel odd meters in a three-minute YouTube video she produced called “Do You Want to Have Better Time?, ” where she shows how to practice using a metronome clicking out a single beat heard on “every fifth 8th note in 5/4 time.” An advanced concept to say the least.
Another constant theme of Linda May Han Oh’s musical character is her emphasis on listening. When she performed with Johnathan Blake and Chris Potter at the Jazz Center last month, the trio played over open-ended over simple, short forms. Their deep listening skills were on clear display, with each member feeding off the others’ ideas. This experience allowed the audience to listen in on an exchange of ideas, a conversation of the highest order where listeners could follow the thread of ideas from one musician to another as they were spontaneously created. This uber-level of listening permeates all of May Han Oh’s projects and is fundamental to their brilliance. In an interview with New Music USA she said “if you’re playing with musicians who are all listening and ready to give…you’re respecting each other. I think the worst thing in humanity is when people aren’t listening to each other.”
Linda May Han Oh’s impeccable time, her intense musicality and her focus on listening have earned her respect from the highest levels of jazz royalty. She has been recently touring with Kenny Barron, Ravi Coltrane and Pat Metheny just to mention a few. Some of the awards she has received include a 2023 Grammy as a member of Terri Lyne Carrington’s New Standards Group for Best Instrumental Album, a Bell-Prize for Young Australian Jazz Musician of the Year, and an ASCAP Young Jazz Composer’s award. She was also a winner of the IAJE Sisters in Jazz competition, a semifinalist in the Thelonious Monk International Bass Competition and a scholarship student at Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead and Banff Center for Creative Arts. Pat Metheny has said [May Han Oh] “has all the things you want: great time, a really big and yet dynamic sound, a fantastic harmonic sense and real facility on the instrument…She has an indescribable presence in the music that is really hard to find. She owns the space around the notes she plays in ways that really add up to something more than the notes and sounds. There is a transcendent thing happening there that is really what makes music music.” Linda May Han Oh has released eight albums as a leader and has performed as a sidewoman on over 100 recordings. She has served as a member of the Pat Metheny Group, the Dave Douglas Quintet, Vijay Iyer Trio, Fabian Almazan Trio and numerous projects with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and Kris Davis, with whom she collaborates in Berklee School of Music’s Jazz and Gender Justice Program.
It’s not easy to be a side-person with Linda May Han Oh – her expectations require that the musicians who join her are virtuosos on their instruments with great listening abilities and a sense of time that can meet the challenge of her rhythmical exactitude. The quartet’s pianist, Fabian Almazan, goes above and beyond these requirements. Mr. Almazan and Ms. May Han Oh are married and together they have a two-year-old son who sometimes joins them on tours. The Cuban-American pianist is the founding director of Biophilia Records which works towards ensuring a continued dialogue of awareness concerning music and environmental justice. Biophilia artists are united by a common interest in creating a positive impact on the environment and our communities. They collaborate with organizations that specialize in conservation, sustainability and outreach initiatives, regularly volunteering in community events. As a performer, Almazan has toured his own music extensively as well as accompanied artists such as Terence Blanchard, Gretchen Parlato, John Hollenbeck, Mark Guiliana, Dave Douglass, Avishai Cohen and Ambrose Akinmusire among others. His awards include two Grammy nominations, the SWR New Jazz Meeting commission, the Jerome Fund for Emerging Composers Award, the Jazz Gallery Residency, Rockerfeller Brothers Residency, Cintas Foundation Award in Composition and a grant from the Sundance Composers’ Lab Fund.
The saxophonist of the group is Troy Roberts. JazzTimes magazine claims that Roberts “is a force to be reckoned with no matter the setting. He is more than one to watch, he is one to follow closely.” Roberts has received three DownBeat Jazz Soloist Awards, two Grammy nominations, and was a semi-finalist in the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. As a youth he traveled around Europe and the US, performing with Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, Joey DeFrancesco, James Morrison, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, Christian McBride, Sammy Figueroa, Billy Hart, Dave Douglas, Orrin Evans and Kurt Elling. In 2012, he shared the stage in an international septet comprised of jazz giants Wayne Shorter, Richard Bona, Vinnie Colaiuta and Zakir Hussein for Herbie Hancock’s launch of International Jazz Day at the United Nations. He was also part of Hancock’s 2014 International Jazz Day held in Osaka, Japan performing with Gregory Porter, Marcus Miller, Roy Hargrove, Esperanza Spaulding and John Scofield.
The quartet’s drummer is two-time Grammy-award nominee Eric Doob, who is best known for his work with Paquito D’Rivera and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenon. Doob has also played and/or recorded with Christian Scott, The New York Voices, Dave Samuels and the Caribbean Jazz Project, Edmar Castaneda, Manuel Valera, Eldar Djangirov, Julian Lage, Emilio Solla, Matthew Stevens, Ryan Keberle, and Dr. Lonnie Smith. He has appeared as a guest artist with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and made multiple appearances with the NDR Big Band of Hamburg, Germany. Doob has performed and taught extensively throughout North America, South American, Europe, and Asia. He is a Sabian Cymbals and Vic Firth Drumstick artist.
Take advantage of this opportunity to listen to this stellar band in an intimate setting on March 18th, 2023 at 7:30 at the Vermont Jazz Center. Their music is important; it is viscerally exciting, it is a living example of the expansion of the jazz lineage, and if given full attention engages listeners’ minds and bodies. Come find out why Linda May Han Oh is a major leader in her own right, a world-class composer and bassist, and the side-person of choice for jazz legends like Pat Metheny, Terri Lyne Carrington, Joe Lovano, Vijay Iyer and Kenny Barron. The VJC feels privileged to present this young bass/composer, who is an emerging legend herself. Linda May Han Oh is a humble, generous person whose every performance is an expression of artistry and gratitude. It is a rare opportunity for us to hear her Quartet perform here in Vermont as she and Almazan spend much of their time in her home town of Perth, Australia. Carpe diem! Live attendance at this concert is highly recommended. Come feel the energy of live music – give yourself the gift of sitting and listening closely for two sets so that you can dig in and fully appreciate the music’s beauty and complexity.
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