Oz Noy – Schizophrenic (2009)

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by S. Victor Aaron

“Guitar virtuoso” for some can conjure up images of lightning fast shredders and gadget-filled guitar pyrotechnics. Some of these guys are pretty amazing technicians, to be sure, but a lot of them forget about applying their ample technique to songs that are any joy to listen to. But Oz Noy is not one of them.

Israeli-born Oz Noy has made a name for himself as a studio musician not long after moving to NYC in 1996, having toured and recorded with a diverse array of artists like Toni Braxton, Chris Botti, and Jeff “Tain” Watts. He’s got a real clean, cursive style that’ adaptive for most any situation, the perfect set of attributes for a session dog. But Noy has something to say musically on his own, and today marks the release of his forth album, Schizophrenic, from the Magna Carta imprint Magnatude.

The all-instrumental Schizophrenic impresses perhaps more for what it doesn’t do more then what it does. It’s not a lame excuse to show how fast and flamboyant this guitar whiz can play. It’s not one monotonous track after another devoid of of euphonious, creative melodies. But it’s certainly not lacking in dexterity, either. Instead, Noy constructs songs as memorable as his five-letter full name. He rocks you, grooves you and soothes you, and does so in such a clever way, you’re not apt to notice the shifting time signatures and tricky chord changes. There’s a near-perfect blend of rock, blues, funk and jazz, recast as a slick soul-gratifying fusion that makes few concessions to fads and never appears too snooty. To top it off, he pulls in some other outstanding session players for this record like keyboard player Ricky Peterson, drummer extraordinaire Dave Weckl and bassist Will Lee…and that’s just for starters.

There’s no hesitation to get your body to move to Noy’s mighty rhythm guitar; the opener “Ice Pick” is groove-packed and Noy’s liquid lead lines retains just a little sting to make it human. A couple of tracks later, the calypso-styled “Seven” displays his ability to write songs with interesting, contrasting sections that complement each other, a distinguishing feature found on a lot of his compositions for this CD.

Noy really pulls out all the stops for the title track. Noz plays a ferociously funky rhythm guitar locked into a tight groove with Lee and Anton Fig (Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Gary Moore, Miles Davis, James Brown, Steve Winwood, and Tony Bennett) and Keith Carlock (Steely Dan, Sting, James Taylor, Walter Becker, Donald Fagan), on drums. That’s right…both Fig and Carlock. There to provide a heavy-metal counterpoint guitar is Toto’s Steve Lukather. Peterson rounds out this super line-up on organ. Noy’s guitar solo owes much to Jeff Beck and is one of few times he shows off his fleet-fingered attack, and perhaps the only gimmick he pulls out on the entire album is a sort of skipping distortion to his guitar that oddly works to add more funk. If that’s not enough, the finale is a battle royale between the two world-class drummers, trading licks (not to worry, they don’t overdo it).

The same line-up but with Chris Palmaro replacing Peterson on keys deliver the driving, backbeat rocker “120 Heart Beats,” and Noy even gives Luke solo space at the end.

At the back third of the record, where an album usually peters out, Noy is still coming up with more ideas that mixes up the vibe of the record. The ambling “Elephant Walk” infuses lazy blues motif with a soulful, heavier chorus. “Twice In A While” is a snappy, mid-tempo number that contains Noy’s tastiest licks on the whole record. “Jelly Blue” is a lean blues-rocker where Noy supplies a simmering Steve Ray Vaughan inspired solo. The astral ballad “Underwater Romance” and the fast-paced, fitful “Bug Out” bring an end to the proceedings.

Rock-jazz fusion has so many skilled practitioners that it can hard to decide which ones are going to earn the most listens. In my experience, it’s usually the ones who take the challenging stuff and make it sound easy, all while making it sound easy on the ears. That describes Oz Noy. You might not understand all the technical stuff that went into making Schizophrenia, but you’re apt to appreciate the results all the same.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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