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Sep 14 2010

Brian Robbins reviews The Trio Of OZ

Discovering The Trio of OZ via their debut album has been one of those unexpected pleasures that happens every once in a while. I didn’t see this one coming, boys and girls – but I’m glad it did. Pianist Rachel Z, drummer Omar Hakim, and bassist Maeve Royce have laid down a jam-laden jazz album chock full of emotion and life. Some of the jams captured here take you through more twists and turns than the average feature-length movie: tension that gives way to wistful sweetness or jump-in-the-air joy, with enough peaks and dips and drifts and glides to hook you in and make you want to find out just where the thing is going next.

If anyone were to find fault in this album, it might be with a cry of, “But it’s all covers – no originals!” Well, that may be true, but listen up, boys and girls: the tunes may bear someone else’s writing credits, but once the OZters present the basic theme (in their own musical language), no rules apply. This is jam territory; hang onto your hats. Whether you’re a fan of the original artists who recorded these songs (including Coldplay’s “Lost”, Depeche Mode’s “In Your Room”, “King of Pain” by the Police, Stone Temple Pilots’ “Sour Girl”, and “Angry Chair” by Alice In Chains) or not, it doesn’t matter. The Trio of OZ takes them on and makes them their own.

Seconds into the album you can’t help but be impressed with the sound. Drummer Omar Hakim (who’s kept the beat for everyone from Miles Davis and Weather Report to Bruce Springsteen and Sting) handled the engineering and mixing for the album and simply nailed the Trio’s vibe. The result is an album that feels crisp, immediate, and right there. Of exceptional note is the bass sound of Maeve Royce, which simply envelops you – not in terms of volume, but feel. Hakim’s production somehow takes us right inside that big ol’ upright, burrowing us up in its chambers.

By the way, Royce may have the shortest bio of the three, but she definitely drives the OZ beast with her acoustic bass playing. Check out her lovely bowed passages on “Det Tar Tid” – or listen to her ominous-yet-cool intro to “I Will Possess Your Heart”, a moment that rivals Berry Oakley digging into his Fender at the beginning of “Whipping Post”. Royce can go from serious wump monster to gentle giant at the drop of a hat and she’s the perfect complement to vets Z and Hakim.

The aforementioned “I Will Possess Your Heart” also showcases the kind of power Hakim is capable of unleashing on his drums. At the 4:25 mark, he goes into a wild-ass-yet-totally-in-control flurry, with Z maintaining a solid chordal backdrop for him to slam off of – harkening back to the glory days of the Steve Kimock Band and Rodney Holmes’ duels with SK on “Elmer’s Revenge”.

And then there’s Rachel Z herself, who’s collaborated with jazz greats such as Wayne Shorter, Larry Coryell, and Al Di Meola. Her playing on The Trio of OZ ranges from angular bits of Monkishness and flat-out bebop-flavored flurries to lovely cascades of sound washing over her bandmates’ rhythm textures. She roams the keyboard with the grace and imagination of Keith Jarrett while never sounding like an imitator.

The Trio Of OZ offers up something for jazzbos and jamsters alike. I’m serious, boys and girls: you need – need – to listen to this.

OZ is the place to be.

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