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Linda May Han Oh Quintet at Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society

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Linda May Han Oh Quintet
Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society
Half Moon Bay, CA
January 28, 2024

Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is a fantastic seaside venue for enjoying gemütlich hospitality and late Sunday afternoon jazz. On this Sunday, the tides rolled in Linda May Han Oh and her formidable quintet.

Linda May is a remarkable bassist and has an enchanting presence. Attired in a full-length Hawaiian grass—type skirt, she played—or should I say danced—with her whole body as if in an ecstatic trance. Musically, however, she was fully present. When asked about the trance aspect of her set, she replied, "Isn't that the whole point!"

She was mesmerizing. Her graceful fingers glided over the strings, sometimes tapping them to deliver just the right note. Her affect was angelic.

In this outing, all the tunes were originals, highlighting her talents as a composer in addition to her reputation as the go-to New York bassist she is. The set began with the composition "The Imperative," an upbeat funk-tinged jumping-off point replete with sonorous, haunting vocal constructions by Portuguese vocalist Sara Serpa. Ms. Oh would, at times, join in for a chorally rich duet, as she did throughout the set. On this tune, the youthful drummer, Mark Whitfield, Jr., adroitly varied his phrases within his Avant-Funk groove.

Cuban pianist-composer Fabian Almazan—another New York go-to—who has played with Christian McBride and several other jazz luminaries knew when to add oblique comping chords or break into a montuno. The quintet was rounded out with renowned mellow-toned tenor saxophonist Mark Turner.

One of her most captivating compositions was "Chimera," which consisted of several distinct motifs, much like movements in a symphony. Another composition, "Hatchling," dedicated to her young son, featured her playing bass guitar and employing melodic phrases as her fingers flew over the frets. Ms. Serpa's scat singing and musical recitation of a love poem were essential parts of the piece.

Oh's other compositions included "The Glass Hours" (the title track of her latest album), "Respite," "Antiquity," and "Optical Illusions"—all unique, sometimes otherworldly, but always swinging and engaging. On "Antiquity," the head was a syncopated syllabic vocal that later transitioned to acoustically unclear lyrics. The sound engineering needed some improvement here.

It was a welcome occasion to hear Ms. Oh and this group of hand-selected musicians superbly feature her fine compositions. The audience was graced to experience her as a bandleader and composer—a different context than just a side person on the New York scene.

The afternoon amounted to a hypnotic performance that had the audience instantly jumping to its feet after the final note. (They usually do these days, but today it was well-deserved.) It was a remarkable concert by the sea.

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