Linda May Han Oh to Release New Album ‘The Glass Hours’

Due out June 2nd, The Glass Hours features a stellar quintet with Sara Serpa, Mark Turner, Fabian Almazan and Obed Calvaire

Linda May Han Oh to Release New Album ‘The Glass Hours’

Due out June 2nd, The Glass Hours features a stellar quintet with Sara Serpa, Mark Turner, Fabian Almazan and Obed Calvaire

It’s an inevitable aspect of the human experience to grapple with the vulnerability of our very existence and the ultimate brevity of our time on this planet. With her breathtaking new album The Glass Hours, GRAMMY-winning bassist/composer Linda May Han Oh has crafted a striking and profoundly moving set of new music to depict her own conflicted feelings about mortality and the ways in which we spend and value it. Due out June 2 via Biophilia Records, the album showcases the further evolution of Oh’s enthralling compositional voice and her gift for exploring monumental societal issues in a personal, intimate form.

Though The Wall Street Journal has referred to Oh as “one of the most dynamic rising stars in jazz today,” it’s arguable that her star has already risen to a staggering height. One of the most in-demand bassists in the modern jazz realm, she has worked with such master artists as Pat Metheny, Vijay Iyer, Kenny Barron, Dave Douglas, Joe Lovano and the late Geri Allen. She was featured (and animated) as one of the musicians in the Pixar film Soul under the musical direction of Jon Batiste and recently earned her first Grammy for Best Instrumental Jazz Album as part of the ensemble for Terri Lyne Carrington’s New Standards Vol. 1.

Alongside these impressive achievements, Oh’s projects as a leader and composer have steadily grown in scope and ambition, with her last album, Aventurine (2019), combining a stellar jazz group with a string quartet and vocal ensemble for a collection of intricate and richly expressive music. The Glass Hours scales back to a quintet, but one made up of five uniquely gifted and innovative musicians: Oh on acoustic and electric bass and backing vocals along with vocalist Sara Serpa, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Fabian Almazan, and drummer Obed Calvaire, rejoining Oh for the first time since her 2009 debut Entry.

It hardly needs mentioning (though can’t really be avoided) that in the years since the release of Aventurine, a global lockdown forced people the world over to reassess and reevaluate the choices they’ve made and their options for the future. During the same time period Oh and Almazan, her partner and collaborator, also welcomed their first child, necessarily shifting priorities and perspectives. Looking into the eyes of her son has raised new and deeper conflicts in Oh’s mind, exacerbated by an increased diet of news accompanying the early hours demanded by a newborn. Becoming so acutely aware of the world’s crises has led the bassist and composer to question the value of music in a society in need of so much help.

“At some point,” she says, “as an artist you have to reflect and ask, ‘Why am I playing music when there’s all these things happening in the world?’ We all go through phases where we realize just how precious and fragile our time here really is, and wonder how we’re going to better our lives and the lives of those we love. To some extent those questions can’t be reconciled, but music has been a healing force for me. It helps me pull myself into the moment and process some of that confusion.”

The album’s dizzying opener “Circles” is recursive and insistent, a suggestive portrait of the treadmill of modern life. The urgently stuttering tune turns in on itself, ourobouros-like, prompting Almazan’s spiraling solo and Turner’s cascading runs. Oh’s eloquent turn calms the proceedings, a reminder of the importance of staying aware of the moment in the midst of all the oppressive demands on our attention. Calvaire’s agitated rhythms and Almazan’s urgent comping never allow those distractions to wholly disappear, however.

Opening with an intimate conversation between Oh’s whispering bass and Almazan’s shimmering piano, echoing off into electronic auroras, “Antiquity” is a sweeping narrative piece representing a nostalgic dystopia, a mindscape frozen and soured by dreams of past glories (however imaginary). “I think there are positive aspects to holding onto memories in a way that can be quite healthy,” Oh explains. “But it can be easy to get stuck in the past. Screen addiction can feed into those dystopian ideals and keep people trapped and isolated from the rest of the world, despite feeling connected at the click of a button.”

Lest the album seem like a litany of contemporary ills, “Chimera” and “Imperative” offer determined remedies, steely odes to the grit, drive and resilience that compel us forward in any endeavor. “I need that sense of danger in my life,” Oh says. “I think that’s why I play improvised music. There’s always that question of what’s going to happen next and the potential for everything to fall apart.” The exhilarating “Phosphorus,” meanwhile, exults in the joys and thrills of life – musical and otherwise.

“Jus Ad Bellum,” the Latin term for “just war” or the justifications required for engaging in battle, is an impassioned examination of the glorification and tragedy of warfare. The song, and Oh’s searching, mournful lyric, were inspired by a course on International Human Rights that the composer took as part of her efforts to give back and address the larger challenges of humanity.

Following the meditative pause of “Respite / Interlude,” the probing “The Other Side” is Oh’s delve into the question of the afterlife, obsession with which can offer hope but can also eclipse the urgency of addressing problems in our corporeal realm. The album closes with the beaming “Hatchling,” a celebration of new life that ends these gorgeous proceedings on a blissfully hopeful note.

Ambitious and questing, Oh’s latest album wrestles with questions that have mystified the species throughout its existence. An hour of music can’t aspire to provide solutions where generations have failed, but this ambitious and compelling work does offer respite, communion, catharsis and creativity in the face of catastrophe, illumination for the darker corners of our crowded consciousness. The Glass Hours is time well and beautifully spent.

The album’s dizzying opener “Circles” is recursive and insistent, a suggestive portrait of the treadmill of modern life. The urgently stuttering tune turns in on itself, ourobouros-like, prompting Almazan’s spiraling solo and Turner’s cascading runs. Oh’s eloquent turn calms the proceedings, a reminder of the importance of staying aware of the moment in the midst of all the oppressive demands on our attention. Calvaire’s agitated rhythms and Almazan’s urgent comping never allow those distractions to wholly disappear, however.

Opening with an intimate conversation between Oh’s whispering bass and Almazan’s shimmering piano, echoing off into electronic auroras, “Antiquity” is a sweeping narrative piece representing a nostalgic dystopia, a mindscape frozen and soured by dreams of past glories (however imaginary). “I think there are positive aspects to holding onto memories in a way that can be quite healthy,” Oh explains. “But it can be easy to get stuck in the past. Screen addiction can feed into those dystopian ideals and keep people trapped and isolated from the rest of the world, despite feeling connected at the click of a button.”

Lest the album seem like a litany of contemporary ills, “Chimera” and “Imperative” offer determined remedies, steely odes to the grit, drive and resilience that compel us forward in any endeavor. “I need that sense of danger in my life,” Oh says. “I think that’s why I play improvised music. There’s always that question of what’s going to happen next and the potential for everything to fall apart.” The exhilarating “Phosphorus,” meanwhile, exults in the joys and thrills of life – musical and otherwise.

“Jus Ad Bellum,” the Latin term for “just war” or the justifications required for engaging in battle, is an impassioned examination of the glorification and tragedy of warfare. The song, and Oh’s searching, mournful lyric, were inspired by a course on International Human Rights that the composer took as part of her efforts to give back and address the larger challenges of humanity.

Following the meditative pause of “Respite / Interlude,” the probing “The Other Side” is Oh’s delve into the question of the afterlife, obsession with which can offer hope but can also eclipse the urgency of addressing problems in our corporeal realm. The album closes with the beaming “Hatchling,” a celebration of new life that ends these gorgeous proceedings on a blissfully hopeful note.

Ambitious and questing, Oh’s latest album wrestles with questions that have mystified the species throughout its existence. An hour of music can’t aspire to provide solutions where generations have failed, but this ambitious and compelling work does offer respite, communion, catharsis and creativity in the face of catastrophe, illumination for the darker corners of our crowded consciousness. The Glass Hours is time well and beautifully spent.

Bass Magazine   By: Bass Magazine