The guitar wizardry of Oz
First Posted: 5/20/2014
Oz Noy has been a professional musician since the age of 13. It sure didn’t take long before the Israeli-born guitarist was hanging with the crème de la crème of his country’s musical best, including an eventual gig in the house band on one of Israel’s top-rated TV programs, “Rishon B’Bidur” (“First in Entertainment”). Noy humbly credits his childhood surroundings for his early rise to musical prominence.
“The great thing about growing up in a place like Israel,” Noy begins, “at least at the time, is that the level is not as high as it is in New York. I could do professional-type gigs at a young age, so that got me into a lot of things – something that I couldn’t have done if I was in New York.”
Noy will bring his jazz-inflected, bluesy hybrid to the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains on Thursday, May 22 for a show that will feature his trio – rounded out by drummer Keith Carlock, who’s done time with Sting and Steely Dan, and bassist Oteil Burbridge, known for his work with the Allman Brothers since 1997.
When Noy relocated to New York in 1996, his career was already in fast-forward. After the move, Noy would eventually record his live debut disc, “Oz Live,” at New York City’s legendary club The Bitter End. He’s gone on to record for esteemed jazz/progressive labels like Magna Carta Records, releasing his studio debut “Ha!” with the label in 2005, the record featuring talent like David Letterman’s CBS Orchestra players Will Lee on bass and Anton Fig on drums. Noy is also refreshingly somewhat self-deprecating when talking about his evolution as a player from his early days in Israel to current hobnobbing with some of the world’s greatest players.
“Well, I hope I’m getting better,” he says with a laugh. “I think the roots of what I’m doing stayed the same, but hopefully I got deeper into it. At some point, when you know where you’re coming from and you know what you’re doing, it’s about getting your craft better. I grew up playing jazz and rock, so the deeper I got into jazz, that really helped my development, and the same with rock. You have to get into the roots of your own playing.”
Noy has done extensive work as a sideman in addition to his own records. When posed with a question about his numerous session gigs, he’s at a loss to remember most of them. From live work and studio time spent with everyone from Gavin DeGraw to Phillip Phillips to Toni Braxton, Noy is only spurred on when reminded of the long list of names to which he’s lent his six-string skill over the years.
“Roger Glover was great,” Noy stresses with enthusiasm after being reminded of the Deep Purple bassist’s 2011 solo outing, “If Life Was Easy.” “I’ve only done the one record with Roger, but it was one of the most fun records I’ve ever done. He’s great at what he does and he was super supportive, and it was a great record.”
Texas roots-fusion guitarist Eric Johnson is also a name to which Noy responded with adulation.
“I’ve played with Eric so many times,” Noy recalled. “He’s a friend of mine. If I’m near one of his shows, I’ll sit in with him, or he’ll sit in with me in New York. It’s very inspiring to play with people like that. Also, gigs like last year where I was in the house band for the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, we played with people like Foreigner, Alison Krauss, Aerosmith; it’s really cool stuff. I don’t do it much; it’s just if I get a call to do it once in a while, but it’s still so much fun.”
Noy brings that same sense of spontaneity to his latest record, “Twisted Blues Vol. 2.” The record is filled with guest stars, many of whom Noy has played with during his career. From jazz legend Chick Corea on the strutting funk of “Rhumba Tumba,” to the breakneck shuffle of “Blue Ball Blues,” on which Allman Brothers/Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes lends a hand, the album is littered with Noy’s trademark sense of innovative phrasing and thought-provoking instrumental interplay.
“Even though these are new songs, I knew I wanted to put out a ‘Volume 2’ when I recorded ‘Volume 1’ in 2011,” Noy says. “This one is like the Side B of ‘Volume 1.’ I knew I hadn’t yet completed the mission. In terms of the guests, a lot of it depends on the writing for the record, if it makes sense to have a guest or not. On previous records, I’ve had a guest on a song or two, but here, there was space to have people play. A lot of the idea here was to have me play with the guests, not just have me and them do separate takes.”
Just how much of the new record will an audience experience live? Noy is quick to point out that his live show does not always adhere to what’s on the record, something that fans have come to actually appreciate.
“I’ve heard people come to the show that say, ‘I don’t like this kind of music, but I like what you do,’” Noy says with a hint of satisfaction. “It’s very exciting to see this music live, way more than the record. Plus, when I play live, I usually don’t play with the guys that were on the record, so everybody’s got their own angle on the music – it’s its own thing. That’s what I like; it really inspires me to play.”
Noy, a player that never seems to be locked into any particular safe zone, further elaborates on his idea that improvisation is really the key to a successful live gig.
“Some of the rock players, they’re the worst,” he laughs. “They play the solo like it is on the record, note for note. That, to me, is a crime. Maybe some people want to hear the solo from the record, but you kind of want to hear the guys play; you don’t want a Broadway show. Although what I’m playing doesn’t sound like jazz, because we’re not swinging, to me, I’m playing jazz. Improvisation is jazz. I have no desire to play the same solos I played on my records again, or even something similar.”
Before the conversation is over, Noy reflects upon the differences of being a solo artist and being a session/sideman during his career, two things that he says are very different for anyone wishing to pursue a career in either direction.
“A sideman, you have to be out there showing your face, being nice to everyone, having all the right connections,” Noy says. “If you’re a solo artist, it’s a whole other game because then you’re an act. So, I think the most important thing is not to worry about it too much. If you are worrying about it, you’re in the wrong business. If you’re concerned about money and this and that, you have to do something else, because a lot of music is just Zen – you have to do your part and hope the rest will come together.
“I’m not out to impress anybody. I’ve got a mix of jazz and blues and R&B; we don’t take it too seriously. People just need to enjoy it, really. That’s why I’m here, to just make good music.”