Bassist and composer Linda May Han Oh has been thinking a lot about perception, choices, and life cycles. In a recent phone conversation, we spoke with Oh about her reading and research surrounding some of life’s big paradoxes, and how she has been using these thoughts to fuel a new set of compositions. The work–titled The Glass Hours–will have its Chamber Music America premiere at The Jazz Gallery this weekend, featuring vocalist Sara Serpa, saxophonist Melissa Aldana, pianist Fabian Almazan, drummer Obed Calvaire, and Linda Oh on bass.
Oh’s most recent release, Aventurine (Biophilia 2019) was an ambitious double quartet with string quartet and choir. Colorful and dense, flowing and crisp, Aventurine is a lush and cohesive work. Oh is a member of the We Have Voice Collective, and was succinctly described as a “musician with intention” by Music and Literature. She has been a longtime friend of The Jazz Gallery, has performed with Joe Lovano, Steve Wilson, Vijay Iyer, Dave Douglas, Kenny Barron, Geri Allen, Fabian Almazan, and Terri Lyne Carrington, and is currently the bassist with guitarist Pat Metheny. Read on for our full conversation below.
The Jazz Gallery: Nice to catch up with you. Are you in New York at the moment?
Linda May Han Oh: I’m actually up in Tarrytown with Fabian Almazan. We’re both doing work at the Rockefeller Kykuit Estate, where they have a space for artists to work. We’ve spent the last couple of days here.
TJG: Sounds like a lovely way to get out of the city
LO: Exactly. I’ve been working on some of this new music.
TJG: Tell me a little more about the Chamber Music America premiere you’re working on.
LO: The lineup is Sara Serpa on vocals, Melissa Aldana on saxophone, Fabian Almazan on piano and electronics, and Obed Calvaire on drums. They’re all great musicians, and I’m excited to work with them on this new music. Most of these new pieces are based on abstract themes of life and time, linear versus cyclical, looking at the push-and-pull in our perceptions between old and new, and how it all plays out in the choices we make. As I’ve been writing, I’ve been exploring these concepts through different compositions and forms.
TJG: Before we get into the specifics, how did you decide to do a project along the lines of space, time, life cycles?
LO: I’ve thought a lot about these themes, and my current work is based on a few different related things I’ve been checking out. Some of the music touches on stories and myths, partially derived from Joseph Campbell and his writing, including “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” I’ve been looking at how myths can parallel the trials and tribulations we have in our own lives, our expectations, our goals, et cetera. Some of these thoughts are based on stuff I’ve been reading, some are based on more general questions regarding the value of life. I’ve been reading and doing online coursework via Coursera relating to International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law: I’m working on educating myself in my own values, exploring these questions and paradoxes.
I feel incredibly privileged that I don’t have to fight in a war at the moment, to go into battle. How interesting it is that we value life and the lives of others, and yet, there are paradoxes within the realm of international humanitarian law: We see guidelines in place to limit the amount of hurt and death that is happening, and yet, war is still war. It’s amazing how certain questions, like the ones in the back of my mind regarding the value of life, can feel so separate when we’re not living within the realm of war. It’s paradoxical that we value our lives and the lives of those around us, and yet you look at the military, the state of health care, gun reform… There are separations that make you question things.