Linda May Han Oh




There’s always an element of risk when artists interrogate themselves as to why they do what they do, as analysis can jeopardise the purity of intuition. But for those brave enough to take the plunge, it can also lead to deeper areas of endeavour, as musicians from JS Bach to John Coltrane have discovered. In the wake of the pandemic, Linda May Han Oh says she’s questioned the point of making music, with the result that on The Glass Hours she confronts such big issues as mortality, and in the title inverts the term “hour glass” to evoke not just time inexorably running out, but its fragility as a concept in our lives. Listening to her fulfill her lofty ambitions here, you wonder what – if any – limits now surround Oh’s expansive artistry as a composer and bassist.

Oh partly lays out her thesis in a spoken-word section delivered by vocalist Sara Serpa on “Antiquity”, a disquieting, oneiric vision of the relationship between past and present. This is one of several pieces to also feature Serpa’s wordless singing, which is often ethereal, but never insubstantial, as on the spiralling melody of “Circles”, shared between Serpa and Mark Turner’s tenor saxophone. This is countered by in an extraordinary out-of-phase deployment of rhythm (with brilliantly-met challenges for drummer Obed Calvaire) that will briefly make you wonder if your listening device is on the blink. Perhaps evocative of the repetitive minutiae of life, “Circles” has edgy contributions from Turner and Fabian Almazan’s piano, before Oh’s solo is the eye of the storm: earthed, sinuous and soulfully emotive amid the freneticism.

As her previous albums, the bassist of choice for the likes of Pat Metheny and Joe Lovano has tailor-made her ensemble to realise a specific batch of compositions. On this one the warmth of Serpa’s voice offers a fascinating textural counterpoint to Turner’s desolate-sounding tenor. It’s a testament to the phenomenal skills of all five players that they improvise with such fluency and vibrancy amid the sometimes-extreme rigours of the compositions. Oh’s stature continues to rise.

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