On bassist Linda Oh’s latest record, Initial Here, you’ll find a host of mind-bending surprises and taut, 90-degree turns. But this album, her second, holds together well—better than 2009’s Entry, her buzzed-about but impetuous debut.
Initial Here finds clamorous comfort in its almost constant polyrhythmic feel, built on Oh’s bodily way of prying sound from her bass (be it electric or acoustic) and the tumbling complexities of Rudy Royston’s drumming. They form a nurturing core for the album’s quartet, which includes the kinetic keyboard of Fabian Almazan (in whose trio Oh plays) and enchanting tenor saxophonist Dayna Stevens, whose grace in the upper register is among the best in the game.
For a compendium of such richly varied tunes, it’s Initial Here’s cohesion and arc that leave you feeling satisfied, as if you’d just finished a full, neatly balanced meal. The album starts with “Ultimare Persona,” a juiced-up rhythmic labyrinth that’s one of the record’s eight originals. The centerpiece is “Thicker Than Water,” a penetrating duet between Oh (on both arco bass and bassoon) and guest vocalist Jen Shyu, a member of Steve Coleman’s Five Elements. The album’s next-to-last song, and its emotional climax, is “Come Sunday,” Duke Ellington’s gospel classic. Stephens and Oh hold the song in suspension, like a pendulum dangling over water, making tiny ripples only with the wind of its passing.