Linda Oh Brings Sun Pictures to New Haven

Jun 4, 2014

Oh's artistic work as a jazz auteur is also graced with a strong cinematic element.

Linda Oh, the phenomenal young bassist who was born in Malaysia to Chinese parents, and raised in Western Australia, performs music from her acclaimed, atmospheric and aptly-named CD, Sun Pictures, as she leads her quartet at 8:30 and 10:00 pm on Friday, June 6, at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven.

Sun Pictures, Oh’s handpicked title for her third release, is inspired by the name of a historic cinema located in Australia in the town of Broome, where one of Oh’s two sisters lives. Oh’s sisters are both doctors, a profession her loving parents, at least initially, felt was a far more fitting, less risky profession for her than being a jazz musician.

A silver screen saga could chronicle Oh’s rise from obscure, aspiring bassist in Perth, Australia, to elevation as a dramatic success in the Big Apple. It could trace her life from Malaysia, where she was born, to Perth, where she moved with her family as a toddler. Then it could fast-forward to her coming to America, her studies at Manhattan School of Music and on to triumph as an uber-talented, smart and beautiful, young Asian woman who, despite the odds, skyrockets to fame.

Linda Oh in performance.
Credit Linda Oh / Facebook

Overcoming the usual male chauvinist skepticism about a woman playing bass, and encounters with nativist views on Asians and immigrants, Oh has made an international name for herself. She’s done it not only through her bold, inventive work with such male jazz giants as trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and pianist Kenny Barron, but also on her own with her three acclaimed CDs as a leader and through her open-ended, evocative style. Classically trained and intellectually curious, she embraces everything from progressive jazz to varied genres, including composing an evolving major chamber music piece for a double quartet, using her well-honed jazz and classical chops.

Oh's artistic work as a jazz auteur who performs, composes, arranges, and leads her players is also graced with a strong cinematic element. Her music’s fluid sense of drama implies a storyline, projecting a kind of reel-to-reel narrative screened in the theater of the mind of each of her many attentive listeners.

“I think in terms of imagery and colors when I listen to or am composing music,” Oh said by phone from her apartment in Harlem. “I think there is definitely a link between music and the visual arts. Sun Pictures has two pieces inspired by paintings: ‘Blue Over Gold,’ whose inspirational source was one of my favorite painters, Mark Rothko; and ‘Ten Minutes to Closing,’ inspired by a painting by an extremely talented schizophrenic artist whose work I saw at the Rubin Museum in New York, where I was to compose a piece based on a work exhibited at the museum.”

Picking a single painting as a source of inspiration can be challenging. When Oh’s eye fell on the right one -- a striking piece of outsider art -- it was one of those eureka moments, she recalled, even as the clock was ticking towards closing time for the museum. “It was ten minutes before the place was about to close,” she said. “I spotted the painting. It was one of those moments when everything else seemed to go quiet, and I knew that painting was what I wanted to write about. It was a painting of a big, gremlin-like monster, which just seemed to be walking along with two people on its back. It was childlike.”

The show’s curator was surprised that Oh had picked that painting. “I didn’t think of it as grotesque,” she said. “I just thought of it as beautiful, and it stuck out from everything else.”

Linda Oh.
Credit Linda Oh / Facebook

There’s certainly nothing weird or grotesque in any of Oh’s artful, lyrical works exhibited in her radiant Sun Pictures (Greenleaf Music). Reviews of her album routinely glow with an array of positive adjectives and metaphors to describe her nuanced musical art with its contemplative color fields of sound.

In one typical review, Sun Pictures is rightly described on AllAboutJazz.com as “introspective,” basking in “achingly fragile beauty and warm mellifluousness.”  It’s a description that would be fit for a painting that somehow combines the elusive essence of James McNeill Whistler’s ethereal Thames nocturnes with one of Mark Rothko’s dramatic, perhaps faintly mystical abstractions in the theatrical setting of the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. Whistler, who passionately embraced the link between visual and aural art, often gave his paintings musical titles, like nocturne or symphony. Sounding much like a jazz composer, he insisted on calling his paintings “arrangements” and “harmonies.”

For Oh’s return visit to Firehouse 12, the co-celebrants of her music are saxophonist Ben Wendel, guitarist Matt Stevens, and drummer Rudy Royston. Besides glints and illuminations from Sun Pictures, the repertoire will include new works and pieces from Oh’s second album, Initial Here (Greenleaf ).

Oh has a preference for exhibiting her works at cozy, acoustically fine venues like Firehouse 12. “Sound wise, I prefer the small and intimate,” she said. “Then again, I got to play the Hollywood Bowl last year, and that was a trip--it was so exciting. Once you start playing even in a big venue like that, it becomes personal again.”

As for future plans, she’s hoping to keep on doing what she’s doing, including preparing a major work for double quartet (a string quartet plus a jazz quartet) for an eventual recording session. “I feel like I’m in a good place now. I have great opportunities to travel and play music with great musicians. I just want to do more of that, to do more writing and keep on recording and learning, to expand on everything,” she said.

Tickets: $18.00, first set; $12.00, second set. Information: firehouse12.com and (203) 785-0468.

Credit David Borawski

No Sad Songs As Swan Song Looms

Although concert producer/fashion designer Dan Blow’s jazz and cabaret series at Japanalia Eiko is set to shut down at the end of the month after a remarkable five-year run, you’d think it was just starting out if you were to estimate its life expectancy by the vital programming that just keeps on surging in its final weeks.

Ending with a bang instead of a whimper, the series is still putting its best foot forward as it has done with life-affirming style in its recent back-to-back weekend appearances by such vibrant performers as singer Catherine Russell and bassist/vocalist Nicki Parrott.

What, under normal conditions, would appear to be robust signs of life will continue at the West End venue at 7:30 pm on Friday, June 6, as Blow presents Ed Fast, the percussionist/bandleader, who breaks out his vibes to perform with his combo, The Ed Fast Latin Jazz Vibe Quintet. Fast is bringing his special guest, singer Linda Ransom. And to insure that his music is cookin’ at a high temperature, the Latin music maestro is also bringing along another buddy, the noted percussionist and longtime staple on the New Haven jazz scene, Jesse Hameen. These are hardly the elements of a requiem for a dying venue.

Despite the music’s undiminished good vibes, Blow is shuttering his clothing shop and popular music venue, to begin a new life on an island in the Bahamas.

Nonetheless, the party will go on at Japanalia until the very last minute of its very final performance scheduled for June 28.

Japanalia Eiko in Hartford.
Credit David Borawski

Japanalia’s grand finale will feature Blow’s longtime friend and Japanalia regular, the Hartford-based vocalist Dianne Mower. In an historical irony of sorts, Mower, who will sing Japanalia’s swan song that final night, was the premiere performer in the series. A diversified mix of cabaret, jazz, blues, Broadway and pop, the series has rocked on for many weekends at the space-challenged but ambience-packed Whitney Street digs that have served Blow as his fashion boutique by day and his cabaret venue by night.

“As Dianne was our first,” Blow noted, “we thought it fitting she be our last!” Until that end date, however, there’s no time for tears, especially this Friday night with Fast digging into joyful Latin classics by such luminaries as Cal Tjader, Tito Puente and Hilton Ruiz. Admission: $48.00, stage-side table seating; $28.00, general row seating. Reservations: (860) 232-4677.

Before the series finale, Blow also presents what he's billing as "The XY Eli Blues Band Japanalia Dance Party and Concert" on June 13. Not sounding the least bit mournful, Blow said, “Eli and his kick-ass band of young disciples make rockin’ music magic for listening and for dancing! Come early and stay late, but wear your dancing shoes.”

So, it doesn’t sound as if Blow’s beloved brainchild will go gentle into that good night. Especially when it can party right on to that final, fateful note that Mower intones at the hour of its death.

Evidently, no crepe will be hung, even at the penultimate concert when the end is undeniably near. For that event, which occurs just the week before the series signs off, Blow brings back the young, award-winning vocalist Dana Lauren.

If you didn’t know any better, you might well think from the way the series is busting out all over in June that it was boldly stepping off into a bright future instead dancing its way into oblivion.

Samba Rio Trio Al Fresco

Joe Carter, a noted Connecticut Yankee jazz guitarist who’s mastered classic Brazilian musical styles, leads his Samba Rio Trio at 7:00 pm on Friday, June 6, as it presents "Brazilian Music Under the Stars" outdoors in the red-brick courtyard of the Funky Monkey Café and Gallery at 130 Elm Street in Cheshire.

Carter and his trio sidekicks, bassist Bill McCrossen and drummer Jerrod Cattey, mix straight-ahead jazz with the cool Brazilian sounds of samba, bossa nova, baiao and choro, creating a vibrant blend whether swinging originals or works by such classic composers as Antonio Carlos Jobim. In case of rain, the trio abandons the al fresco ambience of the courtyard, to perform indoors at The Funky Monkey, which describes itself as an “arts cafe for folks of all stripes.” Music charge: $15.00. Information: thefunkymonkeycafe.com and (203) 439-9161.

Art Center Exhibits Latin Works

Well-regarded for its many performances at clubs, restaurants and jazz venues throughout the Hartford area, the Latin Quarter Jazz Collective presents its Latin-flavored jazz at 7 pm on Thursday, June 5, at the Windsor Art Center, 40 Mechanic Street, Windsor. LQJC artists are saxophonist Bob Paskowitz, keyboardist Warren Byrd, bassist Jason Schwartz and percussionist Woody Floyd, Jr. Admission: $10.00. Information: (860) 688-2528.

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