While other fusion guitarists have received wider international acclaim, Israeli-born, US-resident guitarist Oz Noy has been working in the trenches, slowly amassing a discography as impressive for its writing as it is his tastefully virtuosic playing. Schizophrenic, the guitarist's fourth release since his 2005 Magnatude Records debut, Ha!, demonstrates considerable growth in both departments. Straddling the jazz-rock fusion linesometimes leaning a little more heavily on one than the otherNoy's music has always defined by visceral groove, inventive melody, and an effervescent energy that sometimes simmers, sometimes boils.
Noy is also a loyal band leader who's been working with most of the players here since Ha!. Once again, Anton Fig and Keith Carlock splitand, on the "Beat It"-like groove of "120 Heart Beats," greasy "Elephant Walk," and funky title track, sharedrum duties, but this time the guitarist also brings in Dave Weckl for a first encounter on four of the album's nine Noy originals. Weckl drives "Twice in a While" which, with its easygoing groove and sophisticated harmonies, sounds like something from the Steely Dan repertoire, while playing it more softly on the aptly titled "Seven," a lyrical, 7/4 ballad.
In addition to Fig and Carlock, Noy's other constant companion from the start has been bassist Will Lee, a Saturday Night Live band alum, still-current member of Paul Schaffer's Late Show with David Letterman group and sideman on hundreds of rock, pop, and jazz recording sessions, ranging from The Brecker Brothers and Steve Khan to Dr. John and Robben Ford. Here this unshakable groove-meister goes it alone for the first time, playing on all nine tracks and pushing the pulse on the upbeat "Ice Pick" and down-and-dirty "Jelly Blue," where he also trades off empathically with the heavily processed Noy.
If Noy has a specific reference point, it would be Jeff Beck who, with his Live at Ronnie Scott'sCD (Eagle Rock, 2008) and DVD (Eagle Rock, 2009) and live performance, has been on something of a comeback trail. But while Noy demonstrates the same kind of taste in tone and execution, he's not averse to the occasional shred, delivering some frighteningly fast runs on the high velocity closer, "Bug Out." He also possesses a richer vernacular, his more complex voicings lending the ultimate blues of "Jelly Blue" greater jazz-centricity. But it's always in service of the music and, while Schizophrenic has more than its share of head-scratching, "how does he do it" moments, it also highlights Noy's unique sense of economy as he delivers a tender, chordal melody on the soft "Underwater Romance."
Noy's growth from Ha! to Schizophrenic is palpable; here's a guitarist who's as good as any of the larger fusion names out there and is, in many cases, a more accomplished writer. Why he's not as well-known is a mystery, but if Schizophrenic is a first-encounter, it's bound to bring the guitarist some new fans, while delivering plenty to keep his existing ones beyond happy.
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