Album review

Ozone Quartet : Live At Local 506
Flat Five

Ozone Quartet : Live At Local 506Fusion is not an easy music to approach. It’s a contradiction for a start - how can the tightness of rock possibly fuse with the freedom of jazz? However it works, it has to be listened to closely to get the subtle changes, odd time signatures or musically intellectual jokes that seem to characterise the genre. And even then it can be difficult to work out what is trying to be said.
    For those of you who know your suspended sevenths from your mixolydian mode, this latest live recording from North Carolina's instrumental fusion-rockers, Ozone Quartet will be a treat. If, like the multitude, you don't get fusion, you'll have a hard time getting past the opening few bars.

With Hollis Brown's frantic electric violin as the lead instrument, obvious comparisons can be drawn with sometime Zappa fiddler, Jean-Luc Ponty. It would be fair to mention John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra too, with guitarist Jeremy Shaw providing all the slippery scales and twisted riffs a fusion fan could ever need. Oh, and if you like King Crimson (Three Of A Perfect Pair era) then Wayne Leechford obliges with Tony Levin-esque Chapman Stick play - very much in evidence on the cold funk of Dragonfly.

Listening closely then to Live At Local 506, it is abundantly clear that everything is beautifully played, precise and, like all fusion music, almost entirely without soul.
    There, I've said it. In a musical sphere that prides itself on technical ability, Ozone Quartet are modern masters of sterile perfection.
    The genesis of fusion lies with Miles Davis. He played between the notes and got the best out of his band, who admittedly sometimes over-reached themselves, but mostly enthralled. Ozone Quartet offer a counter point to the great man in that they mostly over-reach themselves but occasionally enthral.
    It's true, there's some great interplay between guitar and rhythm section on Mutoid Man, and a noticeably freer feel to Shaw's guitar work when he's finally set loose on Flood and in particular Diamond Eye. These all too brief moments of pleasure are held up by a goo of interminable boredom.

I never thought I'd say it, being a paid up member of the prog-anorak club, but mercifully all tracks are under five minutes. Any more would be like sitting in front of an open fire, stuffing your face with rich triple chocolate fudge cake drizzled with double cream and chocolate sauce. Try it. Keep a bucket to hand.
    It's hard to criticise musicians who play so well, and live at that, but like the aforementioned McLaughlin, their music has to have something more than just a bunch of tricky notes to make it work. The almost bluesy slow grind of Missing Link comes close to an emotional response, but even then they can't resist chucking in a few overwrought drum fills and bass runs to show how clever they are. We know you can play, just don't be so anal about it.

This album will no doubt get better reviews from listeners more sympathetic to fusion But to these ears, although it's got all the right notes, in the right order, it is sadly devoid of almost anything between those notes.

:: Tom Alford

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