Jazz that rocks from guitarist Oz Noy
He will rock you.
Guitarist Oz Noy insists that jazz lies at the heart of his style, but the Israeli-born musician crafts a sound that is as informed by Stevie Ray Vaughan as it is by Charlie Parker. On his latest work, rock and blues elements sound more pronounced than ever, but Noy still sees a jazz impulse at the root.
“I was lucky enough now that when I went to one of my teachers, he said if you want to play jazz you have to study the tradition, which is bebop. Which I did, and thank God for that,” Noy, 42, says on the phone from his home in New York. “Although what I play now doesn’t sound like bebop because it’s just not, that’s definitely where my phrasing is coming from. That’s kind of my basic roots.”
Noy learned early. He was gigging in and around Tel Aviv by age 13, playing jazz and pop and pursuing whatever other professional possibilities quickly became available to the nascent guitar whiz. By age 24 he’d spent two years in the house band of a popular weekly television show and thought he’d gone as far as he could on the Israeli music scene.
As a transplant to New York City in 1996, he quickly gained attention in the circles of session pros and bandleaders who congregated at open jam sessions like one at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village. Eschewing the sorts of hollow body guitars most familiar in the realm of jazz guitar, Noy opts for the bolder sound of a Fender Stratocaster.
“Oz was one of these people I remember sitting in and people took notice right away,” says drummer Keith Carlock, who found himself playing with Noy shortly after the guitarist arrived in town. “He’s always had his own approach. He has his own vocabulary within the blues vocabulary. Like a lot of people, I connected with it right away. You could tell he connected with a lot of American music but just had his own twist on it that was unique.”
Noy says he was interested in scouting out the pockets of the New York music scene where blues and R&B thrived, but was particularly enthralled by one part of this new world. “What I found right away and what kicked me in the butt and was a really big shock was the jazz scene. That’s when I was like: All right, this is where it’s at,” he says.
A busy session player as well as band leader in his own right, Noy has lent support to pop artists ranging from Cyndi Lauper to Harry Belafonte as well as lower profile jazz combos led by saxophonist Myron Walden and bassist Eric Revis, the latter a longtime member of Branford Marsalis’s quartet. Noy has also released a series of albums under his own name that mine a particularly rocking region of fusion.
He’s particularly interested these days in airing the funkier, bluesy elements of his style.
The title of Noy’s new album, “Twisted Blues Volume 2,” is instructive. It’s taken from the name of a song by famed jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, but also summarizes Noy’s musical mission. It features guest spots from many of the friends Noy has made in his circuits through the industry — Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes, New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint, and Chick Corea make appearances. (Noy describes the collaboration with Corea as “the highlight of my life.”)
The trio he’ll bring to the Regattabar on Tuesday, the day of the album’s release, includes Carlock, who has been Steely Dan’s drummer of choice lately, and bassist Oteil Burbridge, the Allman Brothers’ bassist since 1997.
Noy has sat in with the Allman Brothers, but this particular trio has never played together before. (Two shows at the New York club Iridium precede the Cambridge show.) “It’s that jazz mentality of putting players together that can bring something to the table and have their own unique voices,” Carlock says, “and just see what happens.”
Noy likes to rotate in a variety of players to see what they’ll bring to his work. “I never tell anybody exactly what to play,” he says, “so everyone can put their own spin on it. That’s why if I use this guy or that guy, it inspires me and it makes me sound different.”
He likes to build songs around grooves that would be at home in blues or R&B numbers, rather than the stately swing more familiar in jazz. The new record includes a take on Stevie Wonder’s late-’80s track “Come Let Me Make Your Love Come Down” that plays up the bluesy flavor suggested by Vaughan’s guest spot on the synthesizer-drenched original recording. The album finale is an arrangement of Eddie Harris’s “Freedom Jazz Dance” that frames its unfurling melodic lines in a bed of heavily funked-up guitar.
But the openness to the unknown, he says, keeps things in the lineage of jazz.
“When I make my records, although they don’t sound exactly like jazz records, I think about them as some kind of form of jazz. Whether we’re playing a [blues] shuffle or a rock groove or a funk groove,” Noy says, “the improvisation is the same. It’s jazz improvisation, it’s just that the form is different.”