The bassist and composer Linda May Han Oh makes music that is resolutely of the moment, yet she is defying one of the major trends in jazz today. Unlike her peers who often use their first few recordings to showcase a variety of different bands, Ms. Oh, who is 32 years old, is about to release her fourth recording, “Walk Against Wind” (Biophilia), and it’s her third in a predominantly quartet setting. The similarity in ensembles from one recording to the next focuses the attention on the evolution of her composing and improvising, and it’s a smart strategy. Her innovative range and stellar improvisations have made Ms. Oh one of the most dynamic rising stars in jazz today.
“Walk Against Wind” features 11 originals that are lithe, spry and often episodic. The recording opens with a subdued bass intro by Ms. Oh and a ruminative solo that gives way to a darker, scratchier guitar solo by Matthew Stevens. The piece slows to a crawl before saxophonist Ben Wendel gently nudges the music toward a brighter finish. On other pieces, driving fury yields to softer introspection. Ms. Oh’s bass playing moves effortlessly from timekeeping functions to expanding the range of each tune with provocative solos. Mr. Stevens’s ringing chords and Mr. Wendel’s darting horn provide superb contrast to Ms. Oh’s deep oaken tones. The band will tour in April, performing in Cambridge, Mass., on the 5th, at the Jazz Standard in New York on the 19th, and at venues in Baltimore and Old Lyme, Conn., as well.
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Ms. Oh was born in Malaysia to parents of Chinese descent. Originally named May Han Oh, she grew up in Perth, Australia, and to aid in her assimilation her father gave her the name Linda; on her first three recordings she is
billed simply as Linda Oh. She studied bassoon, played electric bass in rock bands, and listened to a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers recordings. She turned her attention to jazz and won fame in Australia, then moved to New York in 2004 to study at the Manhattan School of Music. She rose quickly through the ranks of the Gotham jazz scene and currently plays in bands led by guitarist Pat Metheny and by trumpeter Dave Douglas and in Sound Prints, a band co-led by Mr. Douglas and saxophonist Joe Lovano.
Her debut as a leader, “Entry,” a self-released 2009 recording, displayed impressive potential, but her second release, “Initial Here” (Greenleaf, 2012), marked her as a major talent. On it she covered the Duke Ellington classic “Come Sunday” with dazzling panache and offered a unique merger of Leonard Bernstein’s “Something’s Coming” with Igor Stravinsky’s “Les Cinq Doigts.” Her third recording, “Sun Pictures” (Greenleaf, 2013), showcased her innovations on a program of originals. Ms. Oh has other projects. Her large ensemble with a string quartet had its debut at Jazz Gallery this winter. “Walk Against Wind” is an accomplished recording, but all signs suggest Ms. Oh is just getting started.
—Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.