LJF 2019: Ozmosys

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Ozmosys - left to right: Omar Hakim, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Rachel Z, Linley Marthe

Without doubt this was surely destined to be one of the most memorable evenings in a star-studded line-up of acts populating this year’s London Jazz Festival. The support act for the night was Brigitte Beraha’s Trio, featuring George Crowley on tenor saxophone and electronics and Tim Giles on drums and electronics. Beraha is rapidly becoming established as one of the UK’s premier vocalists and rightly so as this performance attested. Recording-wise she’s released two albums recorded under her own name, and participated on ones by Babelfish, Solstice and Dave Manington’s Riff Raff and John Turville, amongst others.

Her set tonight provided something of a new departure for her, the small, electronically enhanced unit offering unique challenges which paid-off surprisingly well. Her lissom vocals were frequently overlaid by looping, creating a mesmeric effect. Initially Crowley’s tenor was electronically infused with hesitant, ghostly sounds, but more stentorian saxophone notes eventually burst through. Similarly, Giles’ drums, almost imperceptible at first, gradually built into a series of staccato retorts providing an essential rhythmic framework. The 30-minute unnamed piece, inspired by the industrial world, took the form of one continuous, uninterrupted suite, creating ethereal, emotionally imbued soundscapes.

‘Ozmosys sound like a jazz group fit for the 21st century. This was actually a perfect example of power jazz at its very best’

But the big event was undoubtedly the headline band going by the collective title of Ozmosys. Co-led by Omar Hakim and his wife Rachel Z, their latest project effectively offers a supergroup in every sense of that hackneyed term. Probably best known for his tenure with Weather Report, drummer Hakim has also, notably, recorded with the likes of Miles Davis, George Benson, David Bowie, Sting, Madonna, Dire Straits and Kate Bush. His wife Rachel Z, with whom Hakim formed The Trio Of Oz in 2010, was a participant in Stanley Clarke and Lenny White’s jazz fusion project Vertú, a member of Steps Ahead and she also toured extensively with Peter Gabriel. She played on Wayne Shorter’s album High Life (Verve, 1995) and contributed to its orchestration and sound design. Guitar maestro Kurt Rosenwinkel has appeared as sideman on a myriad of albums, including ones by Gary Burton, Joshua Redman and Chris Cheek, and a dozen under his own name, including his latest, the highly acclaimed Caipi (Heartcore, 2017). Bassist Linley Marthe, whilst perhaps less known than the other three members of Ozmosys was, notably, a member of The Zawinul Syndicate. 

So this quartet project was bound to cause a stir and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Whilst they might be likened to associated groups such as Weather Report, the sound, in terms of dynamics, was actually nearer to Chick Corea’s Return To Forever in its 1970s heyday. The music, whilst rock-infused, also possessed great warmth and lyricism.

In a 90-minute set that included numbers such as Rosenwinkel and Hakim’s rocker Up To Now, the melodic riff-laden tunes were often anthemic and memorably hummable. Rosenwinkel’s guitar playing, in addition to being jaw-droppingly fast enough to wow the axe aficionados in the audience, was crystalline in tone. Thunderous bass guitar executed by Linley Marthe was remarkable in its combination of heaviness and dexterity, his fingers flying around the fretboard during two exceptional solos. Hakim offered the audience a near 10-minute drum solo of staggering virtuosity neatly explaining why he is such an in-demand musician.

Another couple of standouts were the late Victor Bailey’s Sweet Tooth and Rachel Z’s Sensual, in which she began on acoustic grand piano eventually migrating to her extensive bank of keyboards and synthesizers. The closer was the elegiac Eyes To The Future, the title track of their newly released EP, which inevitably had the audience clamouring for more.

The now seemingly obligatory encore was, curiously, a supercharged version of Foo Fighters’ These Days, culminating in Rachel Z literally jumping up and down whilst thumping out repeated chords. By this time the audience were also jumping up and down too, proving that Ozmosys sound like a jazz group fit for the 21st century. This was actually a perfect example of power jazz at its very best.

Ozmosys (Omar Hakim, Rachel Z, Linley Marthe, Kurt Rosenwinkel). Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 16 November 2019.