Now in its sixth year, the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival presents an array of performers for ticketed indoor performances and numerous free outdoor shows at stages around Penn Avenue, Downtown. While the Festival has typically welcomed both top-level acts along with one or two that could be considered “wildcards,” this year’s outdoor stages feature a large number of bold performers.
Bassist Linda May Han Oh (who performs at 1:15 p.m. Sun., June 18, on the Ninth Street Stage) has become one of the year’s rising jazz stars, even though she’s been performing in the U.S. since the late 2000s. Along with the release of her fourth album, Walk Against Wind, she is currently touring with guitarist Pat Metheny. Oh, who was born in Malaysia and grew up in Australia, has also performed with trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Joe Lovano, creating a strong presence that balances rhythmic duties with a bold improvisational voice.
Walk Against Wind features tenor saxophone (Ben Wendel), guitar (Matthew Stevens) and drums (Justin Brown), along with Oh’s bass and some additional keyboards and percussion. The band’s instrumentation and Oh’s approach to writing give the music many layers. “Sometimes it might start with a melody that I hear. Sometimes it might start with a bass figure or a bass sketch or just an underlying thread,” she says, a day after returning from a European tour with Metheny. “And that thread could be that Korean rhythm [in the song ‘Mantis’]. Some of the tunes have their own little underlying logic, little underlying puzzles, which may not be apparent first off when you first listen to them. But the more and more you kind of get into it, the more you can see these threads or patterns.”
Tenor saxophonist Odean Pope could be considered something of a legend in his hometown of Philadelphia, where he has performed and recorded, as well as working as a high school and college educator. A 2006 story in JazzTimes reported on Pope’s visit to a spellbound first-grade class. “I try to reflect on my life in terms of how blessed I was to be raised up in Philadelphia,” Pope said in the article, “and to have shared bandstands and concert halls with the greatest minds this world has produced. I feel a tremendous need to share that information with some of our young people so we can have a continuum.”
Pope has recorded numerous albums as a leader and with legends like drummer Max Roach. While he definitely pays homage to his inspirations, the saxophonist’s big tone and rugged vocabulary push the music forward. At 2 p.m. Sat., June 17, on the Penn Avenue Stage II, Pope leads his Saxophone Choir, an ensemble that has included up to nine of the reeds and a rhythm section. The group’s vast sound incorporates the lush feeling of a big band, delivered with the visceral attack of the World Saxophone Quartet.