Abstract Logix – 2016
10 tracks; 61 minutes
Israeli guitarist Oz Noy’s latest album was made in New York with the cream of local players and a stunning array of guests as he sets out to pay homage to the funk explosion of the late 60’s and early 70’s. With an even split of originals and covers the album is all instrumental except for one vocal, courtesy of Corey Glover (Living Color). The other guests include Robben Ford, Joe Bonamassa and Dweezil Zappa on guitar, John Medeski on keys, Fred Wesley on trombone, Chris Potter on sax and Randy Brecker on trumpet. The latter is significant as one of the touchstones in this music (for this reviewer) is The Brecker Brothers whose jazz-inflected funk seems as relevant here as James Brown who is also covered. The core band is Oz on guitar, Will Lee on bass (Roscoe Beck deps on one track), Rocky Bryant or Steve Wolf are on drums (Chris Layton and Anton Fig on one cut each), Daniel Sadownick on percussion and Jerry Z on keyboards (with Reese Wynans appearing on one track); a three man horn section of David Guy (trumpet), Clark Gayton (trombone) and Ian Hendrickson Smith (sax) appears on seven tracks.
The album opens with two of Oz’s originals: “Come On” certainly grasps the funk nettle firmly with the smooth horns contrasting with the heavy funk bass/percussion. As with most of the tracks here there is ample time for the musicians to show their solo abilities, Oz playing one of his signature skittering runs as the horns provide subtle backing, Fred Wesley’s trombone featuring in the second half of the tune; “Flashback” is less successful to these ears as Oz takes to the wah-wah pedal, at times quoting from “The In Crowd” over an insistent rhythm before John Medeski adds his eerie-sounding Wurlitzer. Far more enjoyable is the band’s take on Charles Mingus’ “Better Git It In Your Soul” which over the course of its seven minutes takes us on a gentle ride with the core refrain played in unison by Oz and Jerry Z, the horns outstanding in bringing gospel soul to the tune and Randy Brecker’s soaring solo topping the piece off superbly.
James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” is the perfect vehicle for this album’s concept and Oz’s well-controlled wah-wah work works well as the rhythm section builds up a real head of steam before releasing Chris Potter’s exuberant sax to play around with the familiar riff. Oz’s “Ice Man” is presumably a tribute to Albert Collins who knew a thing or two about adding funk to the blues and works very well with a great core riff played by Oz, the horns adding punch and Robben Ford stepping in to deliver a great solo. “Zig Zag” is one of the numbers that the horns sit out but the insistent groove and Oz’s extensive guitar work make the track work fine. “Damn, This Groove” has Dweezil Zappa and Oz exchanging some very distorted and, at times, unpleasant guitar ‘noise’ though the basic tune certainly fits the funk concept and the horns are back to add propulsion to the riff.
That leaves three tracks to consider, none of which appears at first to fit the concept of the album. Sam Cooke’s oft-covered “A Change Is Gonna Come” is played as an instrumental, Oz’s aching Les Paul taking the part of the vocalist over some beautiful organ work from Jerry, the horns making a subtle entrance towards the end of the first verse – a lovely take on the classic tune but not a lot to do with funk, this serves as a nice middle break on the album. Jimi Hendrix must undoubtedly merit a mention in a history of funk but the choice of his most famous ballad “Little Wing” is at first slightly strange but with Corey Glover’s soaring (and at times histrionic) vocal and no fewer than three drummers (Anton Fig being credited for ‘reverse drum fills’) there is no doubt that it’s a stunning version, Oz’s guitar suiting the dreamy arrangement perfectly. Probably even stranger on a funk album is a Thelonious Monk tune but the version of “Five Spot Blues” here works well, at least as a guitar fest, with Joe Bonamassa and Oz exchanging bright solos over an all-star band of Chris Layton, Roscoe Beck and Reese Wynans whose organ work pushes the groove well.
Overall this is an album with several high points and a few low ones but guitar fans are sure to find material here that they will enjoy.