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Oz Noy: No Longer Making Choices

Matthew Warnock By

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Oz Noy's Schizophrenic (Magnatude Records, 2009) is the perfect moniker for the Israeli-born, New York-based guitarist. With an array of influences ranging from Charlie Parker to Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Noy melds elements from funk, rock, blues and jazz into his own unique, personal take on modern instrumental music.

Noy's solos seem to be in constant flux as he weaves in and out of hard-driving rock grooves, jazzy based harmonic progressions and rhythmically complex, often lightening fast, improvisations. Listening to Noy's compositions and solos reveals a musician that may be described as having musical schizophrenia, but also one that has emerged with a voice like no other.

After moving to New York in 1996, Noy surrounded himself with some of the biggest names in the business. Working with musicians such as Dave Weckl, Will Lee and Anton Fig, among others, Noy's musical identity continued to grow over the years, culminating in Schizophrenic. The fundamental source of Noy's work on this album, and on his previous recording, is his strong sense of groove. Each track takes travels into a new corner of Noy's highly-developed dictionary of grooves, laying down the cushion that allows each musician in the ensemble to come together on every melodic phrase and rhythmic punch while stretching their improvisations to new heights of creativity.

All About Jazz: You draw from a wide variety of musical genres in your writing and performing such as rock, blues, jazz and funk. How would you describe your music to someone who's never heard you before?

ON Noy: I think of it as jazz, but just not with swing grooves—I tend to use other kind of grooves. To me it's jazz, but instead of playing swing, I play either funk or rock grooves, but I think about the writing as jazz.

AAJ: After listening to your new CD Schizophrenic, it's apparent that you focus strongly on the groove when writing your tunes. Do you start your writing process with a groove and then build up from there? How does your writing process work?

ON: Everything that I write, on all of my records, is based on groove. What usually happens is I'll come up with a riff and if I end up liking it, I'll put it onto Pro Tools in my home studio. Then I'll add some drums and bass, it can be as short as two or four bars, and if I feel that it's a cool and funky groove, I'll take the vamp and develop a song around it. If you listen to about 80-or 90-percent of my tunes they're based on a groove. I write a groove and than base the rest of the tune around it. Once I find good ideas in terms of a groove or a riff, then I'll go forward and write the rest of the tune from there.

AAJ: Do you go into the recording studio with all of your tunes worked out or do you prefer to let them develop once you start the recording process?

ON: I play every week in New York, which is a blessing because I don't like to go into the studio without having performed those tunes. I just don't believe in recording that way, it's just not my thing. My music is also pretty involved so we have to work on it a bit before laying down the tracks.

What we normally do is record a demo with the band in a rehearsal, then we play those tunes for a long time before going into the studio. For this record, we had played some of these tunes live for a year before we recorded them. Playing tunes live is the only way to get a good organic sound and to get things really happening. There are pluses to recording a track the first time we play it, but with my music I don't believe in that approach.

AAJ: Because you've performed these tunes many times before you record them, do you find that you can go into the studio and just nail them all on the first take?

ON: It's kind of funny, you would think that that's the case but it's not. We play live so much that we know the songs very well, but we really know how far we can take them in a live situation. So it usually takes a few times through in the studio to really lock it down as far as how a tune should sound on the record, compared to the live versions we do. I usually record three to five takes and than take the best one from those takes. It takes some time to get used to the sound in the studio. It's different than performing live, it's very microscopic in a way. So we take a little time to get used to that environment.

AAJ: You self-produced Schizophrenic—what led to this decision?

ON: First of all I don't have a budget to hire another producer [laughs]. Besides, I don't really know what a producer would add to my music. We've played the tunes live; I know how I want them to sound, so there's not much that an outside producer would add, in my opinion. I wouldn't mind having another ear, in terms of getting the right sounds. It's tricky, with these records we don't have a big budget so we have to go into the studio and lay it down right away.

We can't spend half a day messing around with guitar sounds—we have to get the drum sounds, the bass sounds, the guitar sounds and then record right away. That's a very challenging thing to do because I get my sound going and then what we get on tape has to be good enough. If there was a producer, as far as the sonic aspect is concerned, that might have helped. But as far as the music we've played the tunes, we know the music, so I don't think having another producer would have really helped.

AAJ: Speaking of gear a little bit, which guitars and amps did you use to record the new album?

ON: I used one guitar, I have a '56 relic Strat, a custom shop '56 relic. I had the original bridge pick-up wound hotter, had it wound all the way, to give it a fatter sound, and I have bigger frets on it. That's the guitar I've been using. I also have a '73, or '72 I forget, Marshall head that I plug into a 4x12 Bad Cat cabinet. I also have a Fender Bandmaster, '66 or '67, head that I plug into a 2x12 Bad Cat cab. Both of those amps, and most of my rig, is modified and tweaked by Ziv Nagari who does all of my amp work. He does a great job, just a fantastic tech, I really love working with him on my gear.

Ha! recording sessions

AAJ: On the tunes "Seven" and "Bug Out," you use a loop pedal to get some really cool sounds. It seems like a loop pedal is a rare thing in the jazz tradition, what inspired you to bring that sound into your playing?

ON: Now, I think more and more jazz musicians are using loops. John Scofield and Bill Frisell have been using them a lot. I got this pedal a few years ago and just started using it. In a trio setting, I have to try different things in order to cover a wider sonic ground, add different parts to the sound or just create different colors in the song. With my effects, whatever I do in the studio I want to be able to do live, and vice versa.

AAJ: Even though you're a modern player as far as style and sound are concerned, there is still a strong influence of bebop heard in your playing. How much did you study bebop when you were learning to play jazz?

ON: I studied it very deeply and I played bebop for many years. I don't think of bebop and modern jazz as being different, to me they're just jazz. To give you an example, I used to play out of the Omnibook a lot. I also used to play with my thumb for a few years like Wes Montgomery. I used to be able to play whole Wes albums note for note from memory, so I was pretty deep into that kind of thing. At a certain point I wanted to avoid sounded like one particular person so I took all of my influences and started to make a big mess out of it [
AAJ: Speaking of your right hand, you mentioned that you used to use your thumb, do you still use your thumb, or a pick, or fingers, or a combination of these approaches?

ON: I just use a pick. I never really pay attention to my right hand. People ask about that sort of thing, but I think it's a waste of time to pay attention to it. I have to be aware of what I'm playing, but at a certain point everybody's physical makeup is different so it's different for every person. As long as you coordinate the left and right hands, and things sound good, that's all that really matters.

AAJ: You grew up in Israel and lived there for a number of years performing and playing in recording studios. How does the Israeli jazz scene compare to that of America and New York in particular?

ON: It's like anywhere but there's no other place like New York as far as the level of jazz here. It can't be compared to anywhere else. There is a strong jazz scene in Israel and there was less competition for gigs. So when I was growing up I didn't have to be at such a high level to play jazz gigs. I was able to do a lot of gigs when I was developing, which was great. I don't know how it would be growing up in New York, but in Israel it was great to be able to play as I was learning more about the music. I was playing in clubs since the age of 13 or so. It wasn't about being the best guy in town, as long as I could hang and do my thing I was able to work, which was a great experience.

AAJ: You're living in New York now and I'm wondering how you find the jazz scene there. It seems that jazz all across the US is hitting a bit of a slow period, but New York has always been able to stay pretty secure with the health of the jazz scene there. How do you find the scene there today?

ON: New York is a sad situation right now. I moved here in '96, which wasn't a good time compared to the '80s and '70s from what I've heard, but from '96 to now it just keeps going down. Places are closing, there are less and less places to play, the scene just seems to be shrinking all around. It's not like there aren't places to play, but it's become less and less and less. It's not just jazz, there's a lot less rock, and a lot less music work in general. I hope this is going to change and it'll get back to where it used to be 20 and 30 years ago.
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