WORTH A LISTEN
Pianist Makoto Ozone can be a problematic musician. On the one hand, he has an unquestioned wealth of musician scholarship and his technique is hard to fault. On the other hand, he can fall prey to cuteness at times. On the other hand, sometimes his ambition exceeds his grasp.
The last time I had listened to Makoto was on Afterward, way back in 1986, and I was not terribly impressed with his work as a leader. So I was curious as to how much he might have improved.
The cuteness and ambition is still in evidence on tunes such as New Child On The Way, in which a simple phrase is played through different chords and at malleable tempos. One can’t deny that the music is well-played, but the conception is irritating and glib.
Again, on Blues of Oz, Makoto comes up with all sorts of cutesy phrases which are more annoying than clever. Dali is a stop and go composition that tries to approximate Dali’s surrealism and fails miserably.
On You’re Not Alone, Makoto indulges his Chopin jones. I’m sorry, but in a jazz context, Makoto’s half-baked classicism comes across as both insipid and overreaching.
In fact, the ballads in general are weak, whether written by Makoto or someone else in the band. The problem is that Makoto falls prey to sentimentality when he’s interpreting ballads. Instead of crying, he simpers.
The uptempo tunes are much better.
I was especially impressed by Makoto’s idiomatically tasteful playing on the Fender Rhodes, which was apparently a new instrument for Makoto, according to his liner notes.
James Genus and Clarence Penn accompany Makoto with incredible sensitivity, which makes sense when you consider that the trio has been playing together for almost six years when Real was recorded. These young musicians also swing like mad and can bring the funk if they want, a challenge which seems to have stimulated Makoto.
I like the bizarre groove at the end of Blue Zone, which drummer Clarence Penn uses to take a crisp and funky solo.
The samba Dance On The Beach could almost be a Chick Corea tune with it’s sprightly, whimsical tone, but thankfully it doesn’t spill over into smarm like Corea can sometimes.
Real ends up being a mixed bag. There’s sparkling musicianship on the uptempo numbers, but the ballads weigh the date down. Makoto’s tendency to write gimmicky heads is a major drawback. Makoto seems to be at his most inspired when reacting to grooves. That makes sense when you have a rhythm section as hot as James Genus and Clarence Penn.
I don’t know what to tell you. You could cut all of the ballads out of Real without missing anything. But if you cut out Makoto’s gimmicky tunes, you’ll miss out on some good playing. Here’s what I would do. Download Central Booking, The Blue Zone, and Dance On The Beach to start with. These tunes are sure winners. Then check out Blues of Oz. If you can deal with Makoto’s affectations as a composer, you might also enjoy Dali. That’s the best I can do.