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Music Review: The Trio of Oz – The Trio of Oz

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“Who are those guys?” — Butch Cassidy asked of his partner. Asking the same question of the Trio of Oz gets an answer with an impressive history in jazz, opera and classical music.

We cannot choose our parents, but often luck brings us great lineage. Omar Hakim, one of the most successful drummers and session men of the past thirty-five years, has a most impressive resume. He’s worked with Miles Davis, George Benson, Madonna, Sting, David Bowie, and the ground-breaking fusion band, Weather Report, just to name a few. His father was a trombonist who played with jazz royalty — Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Hakim began playing drums at age five and, because of his father’s connection with Basie, at age eleven he studied with Basie drummer, Clyde Lucas. Now in addition to his previous notoriety, Hakim is a leader in use of electronic “V-drums”.

Rachel Nicolazzo (aka Rachel Z) also has a family history in the music industry. Her mother, Mary Dora Nicolazzo, was an opera singer who worked with Carl Zeiss and was responsible for Rachel learning to sing beginning at age two. At age eleven, Rachel began classical piano lessons and later was influenced by Herbie Hancock recordings which helped her make the transition to jazz. We are excited she bridged the gap! She has toured with a classmate from the New England Conservatory, jazz superstar, Najee, as well as worked with Larry Coryell and Mike Mainieri.

Hakim and Rachel Z make a formidable duo and have added the bass playing Maeve Royce to form the Trio of Oz. It’s refreshing not only to see more women musicians in jazz, but so see a women playing stand-up bass. For many people, when they hear “women in jazz” they think of singers. It’s satisfying for this reviewer to be able to enjoy Rachel Z and Royce as musicians.

Some jazz groups include a couple of covers of well-known pop tunes perhaps to attract crossover listeners. By contrast, the ten tracks on The Trio of Oz self-titled debut album are all covers of artists such as The Police, Coldplay, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and Death Cab for Cutie, to name a few. Listeners who aren’t familiar with the work of these groups will nevertheless enjoy this CD for the virtuoso performances of these three talented artists. This is jazz. Real jazz from one of my favorite combinations of instruments. The one track with which I am most familiar is the last, “King of Pain.” I turned up the volume and my wife recognized the melody from the other room and remarked, “I like it and I’m no fan of jazz!” This cover is characterized by a piano introduction lasting over two minutes and an obviously recognizable melody yet totally jazzed up.

Every track on Trio of Oz is thoughtfully performed and offers great opportunity for the trio to display their unique improvisational skills. Top notch production and attention-getting arrangements make this CD a good bet. If you are a fan of the artists whose work is covered you’ll be pleased and surprised. If your tastes run more towards trio jazz, you will find it very satisfying. It’s available at CD Baby.

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