Sleepy melodies filled Festival Hall Friday night as bass and piano jazz duo Linda May Han Oh and Fabian Almazan played. Known for their technical mastery and experimental nature, the duo played through a set that, while respectable, was not all that entertaining.
The entire program was slow. There were only a few people in the audience bopping their heads to the songs and the claps at the end of each song weren’t enthusiastic. The duo seemed to have a hard time engaging the crowd in the music and by the end, it started getting repetitive.
Technically, they showed clear mastery of their instruments and their ability to manipulate to create new and unique music. Almazan fluttered over the piano keys while Oh played the upright bass and bass guitar and occasionally sang.
Almazan used foot petals to manipulate the sound of the piano. The program booklet notes he found his personal voice in music through this “electric manipulation of the acoustic piano.” For example, in Almazan’s song “The Everglades,” which is about where he grew up in Florida, he used this technique to make it sound almost like chimes or birds. This technique was used sparingly and effectively, always catching my attention. The program would have been enhanced by experimenting more with this electronic manipulation.
Oh showed off her versatility with the bass by switching between her bass instruments . She would skat and play bass at the same time. Her soprano voice balanced out the deep bass well. She put her entire body into playing the upright bass and it was fun to watch her move up and down the instrument manipulating the strings. During Almazan’s piece “Pet Step Sitter’s Theme Song,” she bopped along to the beat she created by harnessing the silliness of the song, which she said was a rejected theme song for Almazan’s parents’ business.
After that song, Oh said “We never know how that one is gonna go.” Their use of improvisation works sometimes but overall, it felt a bit disconnected, as if Oh and Almazan had differing ideas that weren’t being communicated. It seemed like they were feeling what they were playing but it didn’t appear cohesive.
In jazz, it’s standard that after a solo or improvisation that the crowd claps during the song. But that didn’t happen here so the pair moved onto the next song, the crowd only clapping at the end of each piece.
Throughout the show, the improvisations got monotonous and the crowd never got into it. They clapped for each song but no one cheered. At the end, there were no cheers, only a few stood and clapped.
Despite their technical mastery, the program was mellow and sleepy. The audience simply didn’t respond to their type of jazz.
The musicians will perform again June 5 and June 6.
Riley Utley is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.
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