It's an old sentiment but it still holds that great instrumental chops, enthralling as they may be, are fairly meaningless on their own. And quite frankly, they are pretty ubiquitous these days with the internet exposure machine going full tilt. Given all that, it's quite easy for the listener to become inured with technical prowess especially wizardry of the fretboard. So to say Oz Noy is a fantastic guitarist just isn't enough anymore.
It's fortunate then that what is (and always has been) immediately striking about his music is the sheer range of stylistic influences those amazing chops are tied toand that they make a cohesive package at all. Many visages surface and assemble to complete Noy's distinct musical persona, including SRV bluesyness, JB funkiness and Monk-like harmonic subversiveness along with an updated Hendrix-like sonic experimentalism and a certain Zappa-esque nod-and-a-wink mischievousness. In one box, these have always made for a wonderfully interesting amalgammuch to the pleasure of musical eclecticsbut possibly it's also been something of a conundrum in terms of Noy penetrating the consciousness of a less "broad-eared" audience at large.
In more recent times, Noy has sought to emphasize some of the individual aspects of his multi-layered musicality in his output Twisted Blues Vols I and II
(Abstract Logix, 2011 and 2014 respectively), Who Gives a Funk
(Abstract Logix, 2016), Booga Looga Loo
(Abstract Logix 2019), and even the neo-soul tinged vocal project Ozone Squeeze
(Abstract Logix, 2017) perhaps as a way to better facilitate the uninitiated coming to the party. And indeed these all have their individual merits as worthy parts of his catalog. But it seemed anyone's guess whether a "best-of-all-worlds" record would be in the cards for Noy.
That seems to be exactly what his 11th release, Snapdragon
isa record where Noy's disparate influences have found a unified front in their most accessible and exciting form yet, somehow without sacrificing any of the wonderfully original voice he has forged. And, as is generally the case, it's not one identifiable thing that makes this happen but a confluence of factors.
It most certainly helps that Noy is (again) supported by an impeccable group of a-listers. First among these are drummers Dave Weckl
, Dennis Chambers
and Vinnie Colaiuta
three that need only be referred to by their first names alone in the drum world. Their subtle, explosive and reactive contributions are strewn throughout Snapdragon
and obviously smartly encouraged by Noy on the sessions. Better still are the rhythm sections the three form in teams with ace bassists Will Lee
, James Genus
and John Patitucci
. Any one pairing would be a recipe for groove success, but the different combinations are like some divine smorgasbord of pocketespecially in the context of Noy's rhythmic penchants.
There are many guest appearances that spice things up as well on Snapdragon
. Turns by Noy and guitarist Adam Rogers
electrify "Groovin' Grant," while Chris Potter
adds his largesse to "Tired but Wired" with a rare showing on soprano sax. There's also some truly standout blowing from trumpeters John Snieder
and the late Wallace Roney
(in his final recorded appearance). But perhaps it's Noy's use of horns in a larger sense on Snapdragon
that makes a big difference.
Unlike many of his other projects, Noy often yields the floor to the horns or other instruments to take the melodic lead of the compositions on Snapdragon
. Though his taking melodic center-stage was never a detraction on past albums, his partial "laying back" here not only adds more sonic variety but actually accentuates Noy's unique melodic voice by having it come through on other instruments. It also gives a lot more punch to Noy's guitar when it does take the spotlight. And when it does, it also shows that Noy the player has never sounded more inventive or incendiary.
The material on Snapdragon
includes a few coverstwo Monk tunes ("Evidence" and "Bemsha Swing") and the Rod Argent- penned Zombies / Santana staple "She's Not There"all re-rendered with equal parts reverence, wit and signature Noy ingenuity. These and the nice range of original tunes again give those disparate influences of Noy's a grand staging area, but it's his obvious maturation as a composer, arranger and leader that allows all of the above to shine in much more cogent way than ever before.
If one wanted to introduce Oz Noy to new ears, they would be hard-pressed to find a more solid, inviting representation of who he musically is than Snapdragon
. That it's also the album hard-core Noy fans should recognize as his best yet is doubly exciting.
Looni Tooni; Tired But Wired; Outer Look; She's Not There; Boom, Boo, Boom; Snapdragon;
Evidence; Groovin' Grant; Bemsha Swing (alternate take).