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A Review of the Linda Oh Trio’s “Entry”

Linda Oh: EntryWow! This CD certainly defied my expectations. A young musician not long out of music college releases a debut record and you might expect something designed to impress with a few standards, a touch of flash, derivative playing, maybe a guest star appearance and a disparate set of styles and moods. This record is nothing like that at all!

Linda Oh has crafted a release which is mature, musical, self-assured, and coherent. It can take a career to develop the kind of relaxed confidence and skill that allows a musician to minimize the ego and let the music and the muse take control but Oh plays and writes in a way that allows the music to develop organically and naturally.

It’s such a coherent album (ironically just at a point in the history of the album where it’s very future is I doubt due to the nature of internet sales). It’s a unified statement and Oh talks of creating a “dark, moody sound that reflects the dark blue of the album cover.”

The music on Entry is all composed by Oh except for the closing track – a wonderful take on a rare Red Hot Chili Peppers tune. Oh composes with relatively free collective improvisation in mind. It’s a heavily swinging record though the time is often abstracted or implied and there is a sense of a sensitive trio constantly creating ideas and bouncing them between each other. It sits firmly in the jazz tradition with a balance between ‘time no changes’ a hint of a free jazz approach’ and melodic improvisation. For all its challenging and refreshingly raw nature, it’s a very accessible record however, even for those less acquainted with jazz. It certainly rewards repeated listening. I’m still discovering secluded corners, hidden treasures and fascinating dialogues.

There’s a definite favoring of the low frequencies on this record. Oh spends a great deal of time in her upright’s lowest register and she instructed trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire (Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Heath, Jason Moran) to ‘an lower than he would usually aim for’. Akinmusire plays with imaginative sensitivity and has a touch of that bittersweet beauty to his playing that I associate with Booker Little. The multi-tracked trumpet at the beginning of ‘Numero Uno’ is a highlight (as is the entire track) and his use of slurs and smears on tracks like ‘Morning Sunset’ are intensely musical.

Obed Calvaire (Wynton Marsalis, Danilo Perez, Stefon Harris, Steve Turre) is an extremely active presence on drums. He has a beautifully light touch and a way of playing busily that completely supports the music. He uses dynamics exquisitely as he chatters and comments on the music, constantly experimenting with, abstracting and playing with time. Calvaire is a remarkable drummer who avoids the obvious. His playing on the 3/4 ballad ‘Patterns’ is a polyrhythmic delight.

And Linda Oh (Slide Hampton, TS Monk, Nathan Davis, George Cables) is a remarkable bassist! After playing bassoon and electric bass (which she still plays) in High School, she began playing double bass as recently as 2002. That she plays as she does now is astonishing. She plays upright throughout on this record. She is one of a number of young double-bassists/leaders who are at the forefront of the current jazz scene. She makes inventive use of unusual and nimble ostinatos, double-stops and Scott La faro influenced conversational improvisation; she is both an outstanding soloist and ensemble player.

Some of the double bassists who have recently come to prominence have quite a guitaristic approach but Oh is more likely to use the whole range of the bass and obviously loves the lower register. Her playing at times makes me think of Fred Hopkins, Richard Davis, Dave Holland and Charlie Haden but she certainly sounds like Linda Oh. And what a sound: a great, robust, beautiful upright bass sound. Her soloing grabs the attention, but more in a story telling than a flash manner and she makes wonderful use of motifs to build her solos.

Oh was born in Malaysia to Chinese parents and grew up in Australia. She has been based in New York for three years: a fairly unique background for a unique player and record. Despite this review focussing on the contributions of the individual musicians this record is collaborative and conversational in nature. Entry is raw, exciting, coherent, unusual, challenging and soulful and it deserves your attention.

Released October 6th 2009.

The line-up:

  • Linda Oh: bass
  • Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet
  • Obed Calvaire: drums

Entry Track Listing

1 Morning Sunset
2 Patterns
3 Numero Uno
4 Fourth Limb
5 Gunners
6 A Year From Now
7 Before the Music
8 201
9 Soul to Squeeze

Preview and download Entry:

Get more info at Linda’s website.

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