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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Vincent Soyez

We’re half way through the 2012 Jazz Gallery Residency Commissions, and we’re thrilled with the way that the program is going so far. Our theme for the season has been Leading From the Bass, and we’ve heard exquisite premieres of new works from Matt Brewer and Joe Sanders. Matt’s performance and residency received an excellent feature in JazzTimes, which we highly recommend.

Our latest Leading From the Bass artist, Linda Oh, has been at The Gallery frequently since the start of her residency on March 19th. We caught up with the bassist-composer late last week during one of her afternoons in our space, and got the scoop on her project.

Like Matt and Joe, Linda is enjoying the full use of our space and the ability to work at all hours, except for during performance times. “It’s nice to be able to work here, and not to have to worry about neighbors or anything,” she remarks. Although Linda can practice at home, she notes that the residency allows her a new degree of flexibility: “I could be here [at The Gallery] until three in the morning and play the piano.” Although we usually see her here in the afternoons, the bassist has taken advantage of the all hours access: “I came in late at night after Miles [Okazaki]’s workshop [at The Gallery], which was great, because I went to see his workshop and I was so inspired and just stayed here!”

Linda has been using her time here primarily to focus on work she’s been developing for a string quartet + jazz quartet [piano, bass, drums, saxophone] format. “I’ve been working [in that context] for a little while, and over the years it’s evolved,” she notes:

I did one gig with strings here at The Gallery last year, and before that I did another string gig at a place called the Encore Music Forum at the Nabi Art Gallery.

I’ve been using this commission to keep working on that stuff. I’m taking some of the compositions that I started years ago that still haven’t been really polished, and revamping those, and starting some new pieces as well. It’s good…there’s a whole bunch of writing that I’m weeding out, and it’s difficult, because [I think to myself], ‘Oh! I spent so much time arranging this, but is this really what I want?’ I’ve been exing out a lot of things, painfully deciding, ‘You know what, I’ve got to let go of this.’

In previous performances with strings, Linda experimented with surround sound (in which the audience sat in the center of the room and the musicians walked around them while performing) and with performing in the dark (“which is another challenge, because everyone had to memorize everything”). Although she has all but decided against continuing those explorations in her Gallery performances next weekend, the bassist has been conducting rehearsals to try out some newer ideas:

This initial reading was more an exploration of different textural things and compositional things I wanted to try out, to see if the strings were okay with the fingerings. [There was] also an improvisational element; there were some parts that I wrote out, but the other day we tried [the same music with] chord symbols, and I asked them to ignore what I had written and just do what they wanted, but still in a comping manner. A lot of this is comping, either for saxophone or piano. I was trying different things, like having the cello be the main feature, and just experimenting with different roles. Some of the tunes have the viola [designated] as the groove element in the quartet, and the cello might carry the melody.

Linda has been working with the Sirius Quartet, a group that has a history of working with improvisers, including Uri Cane and Steve Wilson. “They’re pretty used to it,” she says, “and they are tight as well; they’re a working group.” Linda notes that balancing a string quartet with drums is “a constant challenge, especially when you bring drums in – just for them to be able to hear themselves, and intonation, and that sort of thing.” Having space to try new things has helped her discover what works and what doesn’t, and adjust her writing accordingly:

I’m slowly learning. The first few gos were okay, but the compositional aspect…I’m still having to ask, ‘Is this okay?’ Should I put this down an octave?,’ and that sort of thing. I think it’s a combination of the compositional sort of thing and being aware of what’s tricky and what’s not. You know, little stuff, like having to tune major seconds. There was one chord we were fussing over the other day with a minor ninth, and we figured out that cello had to finger just a little bit sharper…little things like that [present] a learning curve for me.

Linda is thinking about recording this music, and the performances on the 20th and 21st might be documented in some fashion or another. In the meantime, check out these recommendations from Linda below:

Recommendations:

One thing that I would really recommend listening to is this Arvo Pärt piece called Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten. It’s absolutely gorgeous; if it doesn’t reduce you to tears, you’re a robot! I’ve been getting into him recently. I think he’s amazing. Just…his patience, which is reflected when you see interviews of him, and he took two years off from writing anything, and when he came back, it was just like another monster.”

There’s a really cute one with him an Björk. It’s not incredibly detailed, which is why I like it. It’s so simple…when you read some of the stuff that he writes…there was one thing he said about a monk that he was talking to in the Soviet Union, [and he was] just asking the monk, “What should I do to become a better composer?” It just seems so childlike and simplistic, the way he talks about things.

Watch a performance of Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, and check out the interview in question.