Oz Noy: Fun With Fusion

Jim Worsley By

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Part of writing and coloring my compositions is by orchestrating with effect to make things seem bigger and bolder. —Oz Noy
From Israel to New York City to the inner sanctum of our brains, Oz Noy has engaged us along his journey with his commanding depth and flavorfully diverse sound. He is most often referred to as a guitar wizard. As much as that is true, it doesn't convey the level of artistry and compositional complexities that are both the foundation and pillars of strength that have propelled Noy into the spotlight in the jazz fusion arena. His most recent album, Booga Looga Loo , is a veritable feast of ripe fusion immersed with the fun and playful approach that he is rapidly becoming synonymous with. The Noy penned "Chocolate Souffle," with the support of Vinnie Colaiuta and John Patitucci, is a sweet and rich tune that Noy himself referred to as having a "haunting melody."

Funk, R&B, pop, jazz, rock, blues and other influences have joyfully found their way into the everchanging range of concept albums he has written and recorded over the past few years. Noy is pushing boundaries, experimenting with new twists, exploring uncharted territories, and loving every minute of it. In a recent conversation with All About Jazz, he took the time to expand on his music, life in New York City, teaching, growing up in Israel, and living the life.

All About Jazz: You have a new record out, Booga Looga Loo, that has the combination of being rich in fusion complexities and being joyous and fun to listen to. What was the mindset and concept going in to this record? Many of your records are distinctive. How do you go about deriving these concepts and implementing them?

Oz Noy: This current album was based on boogaloo. Basically, boogaloo meets Bitches Brew. That's what is behind it, really. I really didn't have concepts for my first few records. But then with Twisted Blues Volume One and Twisted Blues Volume Two it was a concept of taking the blues and twisting them with harmonies and that sort of thing. Then I did Who Gives a Funk and that was almost like a James Brown kind of vibe. More of a funk and soul thing. When I have a concept, I can start writing things that fit what I'm doing.

AAJ: You have some stellar musicians on the record, including Dave Weckl, Colauita, Will Lee, James Genus, and Patitucci. You have also had many talented artists on past records. What is the process and criteria you use in selecting the musicians for specific projects?

ON: In most cases all the guys, especially the rhythm section, I am very familiar with. The drummers and bass players, man, I play with those guys pretty regularly. I have enough of a connection with them that when I play with them I know how they sound and will sound, you know what I mean? When I do records I kind of have in mind how James is going to sound, how Vinnie is going to sound, etc. I know these guys so well that I know who fits a situation. I just call them and hopefully they are available to come in and do it. A lot of times I like to do gigs with them beforehand. I don't like to just go cold into the studio. That's pretty much the process.

AAJ: You came to NYC from Israel in 1996. Could you tell us about how you got started with your musical career in Israel?

ON: I started playing when I was ten. When I was thirteen or fourteen, I started playing professionally. By the time I was sixteen I started to play with some artists that were well known in Israel. I played with some pop artists and did some recording. Then I was on a big TV show. I was in the house band. I also always did jazz gigs. Always. I played a lot of little bars and clubs. It's small, but still there are enough jazz gigs to where you can play and develop. You didn't have to be the best player in the world in order to get gigs. For me it was good. It gave me a chance to develop professionally. I could do work there, whereas in New York I would have no chance.

AAJ: Right, it gave you the opportunity to get better and then get to New York.

ON: Yes, exactly.

AAJ: How often do you get back to Israel?

ON: Used to be for many years I would go back twice a year. Now its just whenever I can.

AAJ: Was it kind of a culture shock when you first came to New York City?

ON: It wasn't really a culture shock at all because there is something about New York that really reminds me of Tel Aviv. Its not the same, but its not that far off either. Its not like that much different. It seemed pretty familiar from the beginning.

AAJ: Outside of the music world, what are the main differences in life in Israel in contrast to the United States?

ON: Well, it's a whole other thing. You know, I would say that the main thing is a big difference over there is that it is all about raising families. Then, of course, the whole political thing with it being a country at war. Life is actually pretty calm and relaxed there, believe it or not. It's pretty comfortable. Its mostly about family and raising kids. Its not really about music. People work as musicians but its just not the main thing.

AAJ: It's interesting that it is calm there despite being a country at war. Is this partially because the country has been at war for so long that it just becomes the norm?

ON: Yes, and also because there are certain areas that are really just pretty chill places. It's the culture also. It's a jungle, a culture shock at first. But once you get into it the lifestyle is a lot more relaxed than New York.

AAJ: Moving on, is it true that you started out on the drums? If so, what made you switch to the guitar?

ON: I wanted to start on the drums, but I didn't. I had a friend of mine who was studying guitar and he told me to go with him for his feature. So, I went with him to his lesson. Then I got started with guitar lessons instead. That's where it started.

AAJ: Your pedalboard is like a panel at NASA.

ON: (laughing) It's not that bad!

AAJ: I meant that as a good thing(now laughing with him) The elements involved would seem to amount to the equivalent of playing another instrument while playing the guitar. How did you develop and master the level of complexities you now have?

ON: The best way to describe it is orchestrating with effect. I've developed my own thing with effects when I started my own trio with my own music. When you play in a trio, a guitar trio, you want to kind of fill out as much sound as possible. Developing all those sounds, effects, and tricks are part of me writing and coloring my compositions. You can make things sound bigger and bolder. I'm orchestrating with effect. I play a chord with one effect and then the whole thing just happens naturally when I start writing for my band.
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