Label: Biophilia Records, 2019
Personnel – Linda May Han Oh: acoustic and electric bass; Greg Ward: alto and soprano saxophones; Matt Mitchell: piano; Ches Smith: drums, vibraphone; Fung Chern Hwei: violin; Sara Caswell: violin; Bennie Von Gutzeit: viola; Jeremy Harman: cello + Invenio vocal ensemble.
The prodigiously gifted bass player Linda May Ahn Oh proposes a warm, often quietly expressive set of music on her newest outing, Aventurine, a personal music essay in which some of the pieces took several years to reach the desired state of maturation. Flanked by collaborators such as top-tier pianist Matt Mitchell, imaginative drummer/percussionist Ches Smith, and outgoing saxophonist Greg Ward, Ms. Oh also employs a dutiful string quartet and the Melbourne-based vocal ensemble Invenio on selected numbers.
The latter group contributes significantly on the tunes the bassist wrote for her nieces. The first of them is the title cut, which starts out the record with the string players embracing a quasi-cinematic solemnity. They share brief pizzicato moments with the bassist after a complex orchestration comes off, landing on a gracious classical-like roundabout where noteworthy vocal layers float atop. The other piece is “Rest Your Weary Head”, which was divided into two distinct tracks. The first of them brings a dreamy, lullaby-ish feel in the voices and texture, while the second initiates with a spacey, serene interaction between soprano sax and bass that becomes vivacious around the time that the pianist brings a sort of Latin motif into the game. With Smith infusing expert beat displacement, the bass continues its free-flowing ramble, while the violin and the sax ostinatos take turns.
“Lilac Chaser” got its title from the visual illusion of the same name and was musically inspired by the work of pianist Andrew Hill with strings. The thick, round sound of the electric bass initially concentrates in a pedal, eventually breaking down to incorporate a groovy motion. Mitchell shows off his fleet-fingered pianism, sweeping the keyboard with quick-wittiness to get a gripping out-of-focus effect. He also excels on “Satuit”, a much jazzier exercise with a swinging bounce.
“Ebony” recirculates rhythmic figures, creating a folk-jazz dance that climaxes during the ecstatic improvisations offered by Ward and Mitchell. If jazz is very much alive here, “Cancrizan” eulogizes classical music, inspired by a crab-canon arrangement from J.S. Bach.
The bandleader’s roots are celebrated on fascinating musical hybrids such as the layered “Song Yue Rao” and the scrupulous “Seepsea Dancers”, both drawn from listenings of shuochang, a traditional Chinese genre of storytelling. More restraint in tone, the latter composition is dedicated to the bassist’s late former manager Izumi Uchida.
Oh’s compositional virtuosity is on display throughout the record, generating layered and risk-taking new music. She manages to propel some classic material to unfamiliar places, like on Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave”, a bebop tune turned into funky experiment enclosing multi-keyed dialogue, and a mournful reading of Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered”, where she delivers a fine bass solo with the strings playing a focal role.
Unlike the outgoing avant-garde forays of Oh’s previous recording Walk The Wind, Aventurine relies on compositions that are patchworks of eclectic inspirations, emphasizing the collective while still providing opportunities to create individually.
01 - Aventurine ► 09 - Ebony ► 13 - Satuit