By the Gods, how I miss jazz sometimes! Although the genre has never really gone anywhere - it still thrives like luna moths in dusty night clubs and recital halls, but it hasn't been a vibrant influx into mainstream culture in a long, long time. Its rough edges were sanded, until it was a smooth polite echo of its former revolutionary shudder.
This is unfortunate, as jazz inspires musicians to actually play their instruments. Really, really well. And make up tunes on the spot. And melodicism, and phrasing; a whole host of musical merits. And while I can appreciate simplified rock, and bare-bones folk, I love MUSIC, and rejoice when I hear something that escalates it to the heavens, like sonic cathedrals of air.
Sein Oh is a South Korean born pianist, who has been playing piano since the age of 5. She played classical piano until the age of 17, when she discovered the maestro Bill Evans, which led her to the unlikely nexus of Denton, Tx, the home of the world-famous North Texas jazz studies program.
On It's Okay, you can hear a range of interests and explorations, from the cosmopolitan ("It's Okay"), to firebrand bebop ("K", "Bop Kick"), to Oh's original fascination, classical music ("These Foolish Things").
Sein Oh has internalized like the vertical logic of bebop, but filtered some of the sand out of the vaseline, by keeping to a chic and positive big band uptempo swing. This music is melodic, as well as adventurous. Like man/most jazz albums, Sein Oh plays her best when her accompaniment is playing well. The bass and drums are both stellar musicians, and are allowed frequent moments to shine. Sometimes the drumming can sound a bit canned and polite, like on the album opener, and the song sounds canned and polite. But when he shuffles, skips and pummels on "K", Oh responds in like fashion, and her playing sounds deft and emotive.
The only downside to this record is it gets too close to the dreaded "smooth jazz" tonality. There's a difference between smooth and mellow, and smooth jazz. In the future, Sein Oh (or her engineers) would be advised to listen to a couple classic Blue Note records, before they start mixing. Remember, a good rule of thing: more Kenny Clarke than Kenny G.
Sein Oh is clearly steeped in the classics, however, as you can hear sentiments of showtunes, like the maudlin and emotional "These Foolish Things", with its twinkling rainbow upper register. This music realizes John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk's ambition towards realizing an instantaneous classical music, created on the spot, speaking from the heart. Also reminds us of the guitarist John Fahey's tendency to play "syncopated Bartok". This is a meeting of head and heart, of instincts and intellect. Her training is in service of the melody and of the harmony, and she is able to flow with it, let it run through her, until she suddenly explodes into an unpredictable boogie woogie ragtime, to remind us this is not church or Carnegie Hall (although they play jazz in Carnegie Hall). This ranks among classic solo jazz piano performances like Thelonius Monk's Solo Monk and Keith Jarrett's The Koln Concert.
As she progressed, I would like to hear Sein Oh let her sidemen speak up a little bit, and to get a bit less restrained and polite. After I finished listening to these tracks online, another track cued up called "Restaurant Music". That's what we don't want to be. There is a disturbing tendency, in western culture, to relegate all wordless music to background music. This is a mistake, as sometimes what is said without lips speaks loudest of all, and with a more versatile vocabulary.
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