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.

AAJ: I have seen and heard you play live a couple of times with Dave Weckl and Jimmy Haslip at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood. There is a lot of energy and symmetry in those performances. You really stretch out but manage to leave space for your bandmates to do so as well. You guys seem to connect well and have a lot of fun up there.

ON: Yeah, yeah. You know, when you find guys that click then it's really great. We click on a lot of levels.

AAJ: There are clearly many varied influences in your music. Which artists and types of music did you listen to growing up?

ON: I grew up listening to everything. A lot of stuff. I grew up listening to The Beatles. Listening to good singer/songwriters. Then I got into jazz. My brother had a lot of jazz records. At some point I got into the blues, and funk, and R & B. Its all about all the stuff really. Its really all of it, all together.

AAJ: With fusion dating back as far as Bitches Brew, it would seem a challenge to create a strong unique sound that becomes synonymous with your name. Maybe you could take us through the process of creation and how this all came together.

ON: I think the main thing is that I was really conscious of trying not to do something that someone else already does better. When you move to New York you quickly need to find your place and realize what you should be doing and what you shouldn't be doing. I had always been in to funk and blues and some other styles so I decided to mix my jazz vocabulary with those other grooves. This is basically what I've done. It actually started in Israel. I used to do jazz gigs there and at some point I stopped getting call so do gigs. They wanted more piano and there weren't enough gigs for guitarists. So, I made my own band. I went to a club and told them that I know you already have jazz bands so let me do a blues thing. I started doing a weekly blues thing that was all instrumental. I got bored with that and added some R& B stuff and then some funk stuff. It ranged from Stevie Wonder to Stevie Ray Vaughn. Then I got bored again. I started playing the jazz stuff again, but over those grooves. So, when I moved to New York I just kind of kept going with it. I had a steady gig at the Bitter End every Monday, so I was able to start writing and developing it. I also was aware of not sounding like anyone else. You know, I can't sound like Wayne Krantz or Kurt Rosenwinkel or anyone else. So, I had some success and got somewhere with it.

AAJ: How do you generally go about composing your tunes?

ON: Well, the ideas can come from anything. Usually what I do when I write is that I don't really sit and write. I noodle on the guitar and find a cool riff or a good groove or a good bass line. It could be anything, a melody or a chord. I record when I'm doing this and when I go to make an album I listen back to see if I have anything there. Then I can start developing or maybe put a drum groove or bass groove on it and see if there is something there. If there is something, then I will start writing the thing. The writing process can actually take me years because I record something and then I let it go and then go back to it again. But again, when you have a concept for a record it helps. I only write when I am doing a record and I have a concept for it. I don't just write. I sometimes feel that is just kind of useless to write stuff without any purpose.

AAJ: In addition to several instructional videos, you have had the opportunity to teach master classes at the Collective School of Music in NYC and the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. What aspect of this do you enjoy most?

ON: I like doing master classes the most. I don't mind doing private lessons, but I definitely like master classes the most. I have a chance to explain what I do. I can talk about different concepts and I have a drummer and a bassist with me, so I can show the students how I do them. I like to do that because sometimes it opens my eyes and also its very good information for people to have. None of the stuff that I teach is hard. To develop it might be hard but the basics of it are pretty simple. If you have the right basics you can develop it yourself. Occasionally you feel like you are talking over someone's head but that's going to happen. I don't work with beginners because I honestly don't know what to do with them. It's more the middle ground that know how to play but just haven't figured it all out yet and don't know what direction they are going. If you have people who are able to really soak it in, then it's great. It's cool. I really like it.

AAJ: You have played with many of the greats in the jazz and fusion world. Are there one or two artists, in particular, that you would really like to play with that you as yet have not had the time or opportunity to do so?

ON: I haven't played with a lot of people really. Chick Corea played on my record but I never really got a chance to play with him. Herbie Hancock or Wayne Shorter would be great of course. I love Ron Carter. I would love to play with him. I don't know if I could hang. Maybe too intimidating. But maybe someday he will call me. I have played with Wallace Roney and Lenny White. That's the kind of stuff I really like.

AAJ: Going the other direction, if you could pick one or two artists from the past to go back in time and play with, who would it be?

ON: Miles Davis for sure. I think would have been the perfect guitarist for Miles.

AAJ: Yeah, I could see that. I could see you playing with Miles or John Coltrane.

ON: Well, I love that whole thing. The guitar players from that era like Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and Herb Ellis. Also, Charlie Parker, The Jazz Messengers, and Bud Powell.

AAJ: What is on the horizon for the rest of 2019 and beyond?

ON: Hopefully a couple of more tours. At some point to Europe and to Asia. Maybe do another short run in the US. The Booga Looga Loo record was supposed to be a double album. When I recorded it I wrote a bunch of tunes and it was just too long. The record company thought we should make it two records. So, I have two thirds of another record that is already recorded. I will do one more set to finish that up. Then next year the second half of this record will come out. It's volume one and volume two.

AAJ: Kind of like Twisted Blues.

ON: Yeah, exactly.

AAJ: Are you going to call it Booga Looga Loo Volume Two?

ON: We are going to call it something else. But that is what it is.

AAJ: It came from the same sessions. Well, I surely appreciate this session today. Continued success and keep having fun with it.

ON: Yeah, man, I'm living the life!

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