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Music Review: Phil Wilson and Makoto Ozone – Live!! At the Berklee Performance Center

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Available for the first time in nearly 25 years, Phil Wilson and Makoto Ozone’s Live!! At the Berklee Performance Center is a dazzling exhibition of talent and drive.

The recording was originally released in 1982 and received 4.5 stars from Leonard Feather. Listening to it now, it’s easy to see what Feather was on about when he wrote, “It can safely be predicted that Makoto Ozone, the 21-year-old phenomenon from Kobe, Japan, will very shortly make the giant step from virtual unknown to world figure.”

Ozone was a student at Berklee at the time of the recording. Wilson was a professor. The dynamic is intriguing and indubitably rich with possibilities. Happily, the pairing makes great use of the opportunity and the 1,200 people filling the Performance Center seem hooked on every musical phrase the two talents put forth.

The performance’s original intent was to use Wilson’s pedigree – he played with the likes of Woody Herman and Louis Armstrong – to give the 21-year-old phenom a platform on which to stand. The young pianist took hold of the opportunity with both hands, melting together with the trombonist with impeccable timing and texture.

Of course, such pure musical joy could only come from a deep relationship between teacher and student and that’s exactly what Ozone and Wilson share. Wilson’s jovial and rewarding style of trombone playing captivates from the opening number, while Makoto’s scrupulous flourishes make for amazing stuff.

The aforementioned opener is “Stella By Starlight,” a classic ballad given a fairly good trot by the two performers. Check out Makoto’s distinct staccato as he tangles with Wilson’s stimulating and warm playing. The fun they’re having!

The grateful crowd is given more to chew on with a pointed version of “Here’s That Rainy Day.” The piece opens up with a delicate ballad portion, but it doesn’t take long for the boys to gear up and throw the track into overdrive with a feisty quadruple time frolic. If there were ever such a thing as Trombone Hero, this cut would be on it.

For Makoto Ozone and Phil Wilson, the name of the game is “fun.” The one-upmanship comes from a place of reverence and admiration, not unfeeling ostentation. The hip “Gravy Waltz” and the crowd-pleasing “Giant Steps” do the trick in shining a light on just how in love with performing these two cats are. The art of putting on a show takes godly preference over dull technicalities.

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  • Pete

    Agree a lot with the “in love with performing” part. Fantastic Fun!