Oz Noy – Schizophrenic
Oz Noy is at the cutting-edge of modern jazz-funk guitar. An in-demand session player, Noy can often be found plying his wares in clubs such as New York’s 55 Bar, or The Bitter End. His unique compositions and playing style make him one of the most easily recognizable players on the scene today, and his solo recordings have all been virtual clinics on jazz and funk guitar playing. On his fourth release, Schizophrenic (Magna Carta), Noy delivers another set of tight instrumentals, though his approach is somewhat different this time around. Noy’s last album Fuzzy (2007 – Magnatude) was jam-packed with effects, loops, and assorted post-production high-jinks. With Schizophrenic, Noy dials that back a bit in favor of a more approachable sonic aesthetic. Not only does this album sound more traditional, the writing is more mainstream as well. Noy’s funk stylings are fused with a pop sensibility here that we’ve rarely heard from him before. The result is Noy’s most commercial-sounding album yet. But fear not; it still includes advanced funk rhythms, off-the-rails jazz lines, biting Strat tones, and the occasional sonic shenanigan. This is an Oz Noy album after all.
Another staple of Noy’s solo records has been the great cast of players he enlists. This trend continues with Schizophrenic, which has Noy joined by frequent collaborators Will Lee (bass), Anton Fig (drums), Keith Carlock (drums), and Dave Weckl (drums), as well as Ricky Peterson (keys), Chris Palmaro (keys), and Steve Lukather (rock guitar).
With it’s tight syncopated rhythm and snappy solo, the opening track Ice Pick could easily fit right in on any of Noy’s previous releases (especially Fuzzy). But even so, the pop inspiration here is stronger than Noy has displayed in the past. As such, it provides a strong indication of what to expect for the rest of the disc, making it a perfect choice for the opener.
120 Heart Beats is certainly the most commercial-sounding track Noy has ever produced. The main riffs and melody give this piece a TV theme feel, though Noy’s envelope filter-laden solo still has his classic off-kilter vibe. This is also the first of two tracks to feature guest Steve Lukather, who’s suitably credited with Rock Guitar. Lukather provides the main distorted riff, and a great outro solo. Lukather also appears on the aptly named title track, which features wild mood swings between Noy’s tight funk rhythms, and Luke’s heavy riffs. This track also features dueling drum solos courtesy of Anton Fig and Keith Carlock. Cool stuff.
Other standout tracks include Schizophrenic’s two ballads; Seven which has a smooth jazz groove, and the atmospheric Underwater Romance, which may be my favorite song on the album. Noy is well known for his high-energy funk guitar prowess, but I’ve always been impressed with his ballad writing as well. These two pieces are among the best he’s ever done.
Though Noy may have added some new shades to his writing for Schizophrenic, one thing that hasn’t changed much is his eccentric improvisational style (the album’s title could easily be a reference to Noy’s approach as a soloist). His broad vocabulary includes jazz lines, blues phrases, and Hendrix-inspired double-stops. Granted, many other guitarists use these same tools as well – the difference with Noy is the adventurous spirit with which he plays. Regardless of tempo or mood, Noy throws caution to the wind with every solo, often injecting outside lines and over-bends into areas that defy logic, yet it always works. Noy takes great solos throughout Schizophrenic, though I particularly enjoy his playing on Elephant Walk and Jelly Blue, where he keeps one foot in Scott Henderson-like blues territory while weaving through the changes. The highly lyrical Twice In A While solo is another standout.
Overall, Schizophrenic is the most mature, well-produced album Noy has recorded thus far. Throughout the record, the writing shows a new, more melodic slant, while still maintaining Noy’s original voice. This album could go a long way towards introducing this great player to a wider audience.
Oz Noy – Schizophrenic (Magna Carta)
Oz Noy – Guitar
Will Lee – Bass
Keith Carlock – Drums
Anton Fig – Drums
Dave Weckl – Drums
Steve Lukather – Rock Guitar
Ricky Peterson – Keys
Chris Palmaro – Keys
1. Ice Pick
2. 120 Heart Beats
5. Elephant Walk
6. Twice In A While
7. Jelly Blue
8. Underwater Romance
9. Bug Out