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Blizzard of Ozlo 

The fun/funk connection of Tucson's Jack Black look-alike

Ask any local musician or performer why they do what they do, and the answer is likely to be a blend of aspiration and necessity--an inexplicable need to perform and produce music, undergirded by the hope that their endeavor leads to some measure of success.

By implication, this means finding an audience. Ozlo, a native Californian (by way of Oregon) who came to Tucson on a trombone scholarship at the UA, is explicit about the importance of his public, such as it is. His Web site even features a section entitled Why Does He Do It?: "If you must ask / why I do what I do / I'll tell you ... it's because of you," reads the poem under that heading.

Out of another's mouth, such sentiment might ring silly. But it's clear from watching any given performance that Ozlo is sincere beyond reproof, even though his music is lighthearted and fun. He elaborates when asked what he finds most satisfying about being a working musician. "The feeling it gives me. Is that a lame answer? I don't know; there's just nothing like it," he says, while specifically noting his affinity for the stage. "Especially being on stage. It's another world that makes me lightheaded when I think of it. Weird, huh? (It's) indescribable."

Despite having actively participated in Tucson's music community for the better part of a decade, Ozlo is only now releasing his eponymous first solo album. This is largely owing to the time it's taken him to assemble the right cast of supporting players for his unique brand of good-time-charley, jazz-informed funk. "Years of searching," is how he describes his methodology in putting the right band together. "Over the last four years, I've played with a lot of people. I started playing with Jim Pavett, owner of Allusion Studios (where Ozlo was recorded and mixed) and a phenomenal drummer. He reintroduced me to Doug Floyd, guitar (player) extraordinaire. I knew Demetri Enriquez for years. The time was right, and he agreed to bring his fabulous fingers to lay down the bass. ... I can tell these guys are really on board; they're invested."

But just who is this Ozlo? In describing him, it's difficult not to reference Jack Black, a comparison that Ozlo himself embraces to an extent. He possesses similar looks, singing ability, physicality and humor. In point of fact, he performed the JB role when he covered Black's band Tenacious D for The 2003 Great Cover-Up. (An aside: that performance, along with vocal duties on Truck's set of Queen covers and Spacefish's interpretation of Iron Maiden, earned Ozlo recognition as a unanimous MVP for the event.)

More significant than any similarity to Jack Black, though, is Ozlo's musicianship. He possesses serious chops on several instruments stemming from a lifelong education in that which calms the savage beast. Aside from the trombone scholarship that brought him to the UA, there's an even deeper background. "As a kid, I took music lessons on piano, trumpet and then trombone. I sang in choirs. I really became serious in high school."

Musically serious, that is. Otherwise, somber moments are few and far. For instance, when asked about Sex Night, an Ozlo-hosted annual celebration of lust that's held at Plush, he wryly observes, "Sex is a natural thing. It brought most of us here."

Ozlo's signature is his inimitable, scat-informed vocal style that is heavily influenced by a performer he inexplicably reveres--Bobby McFerrin. Which, of course, raises the question, "What's up with that?"

"Have you heard him?" Ozlo demands. "He's a walking orchestra. He's my inspiration as a vocalist. I strive to be as talented as him one day. I'd love to study with him. Do you hear that, Bobby? I'll pay!"

It was in Oregon during his tender "band camp years" that Ozlo first caught the frontman bug, but it wasn't until an early '90s stint in the now-defunct local The Itsy Bitsy Spiders that he made the transition out of the horn section. "I played 'bone a few times in the band, but really was into fronting the band and putting on the show. (Plus) I enjoyed writing, (because) it was often a form of release or venting for me."

Subsequently, Ozlo was invited to audition for a Houston funk band called Global Village, and ultimately became their singer. "The funk is another love of mine I've had since early childhood. My two sisters, Marcy and Karen, turned me on to bands like the Ohio Players, Queen and K.C. and The Sunshine Band." This prepared him well for his time as a member of Global Village. "(It) was a blast to front (for Global Village). Those guys are a smokin' band and made me love the funk even more." But after one album and a couple years in Houston, Ozlo returned to Tucson to scratch his solo itch.

Since then, Ozlo has played in various combinations with a veritable army of musicians. The one constant seems to be his performing relationship with the guitarist Matt Mitchell, with whom he performs jazz on a weekly basis, usually as a recurring gig at some nightspot or restaurant or other (Bison Witches, where he works, and The French Quarter are but two of the many). And it's not all jazz or funk--there're very few styles he hasn't explored. "All music has influenced me. My sister Kathleen let me check out her Def Leppard and Night Ranger tapes. (And) you know I also like to rock!"

As for the new album, for which Ozlo and company will be feted on Friday at Plush, it's necessarily a greatest hits compilation of sorts, if for no reason other than it's the culmination of many years of songwriting. Fans will undoubtedly recognize Ozlo classics like "No-tel Motel" and "Windows Down" at the same time that the uninitiated respond with wide-eyed wonder (or so he hopes). Overall, Ozlo is the sound of the band and the man striving to put the "fun" in funk. But does the album (or the man, for that matter) ever get heavy?

"I ain't heavy! I'm yo' brother! Sorry. OK, seriously ... yeah. There are a few tracks on the album about serious things. 'So Very Happy' is about following your dreams. 'Take It All' is about the loss of life and how devastating it can be. 'So Much Time' speaks of the possibility of lost love. Those all were healing songs to write."

This modicum of depth makes Ozlo a party album that manages to avoid being glib. Similarly, it's Ozlo's obvious affection for an audience that strengthens his material, removing any pejorative connotation from "party funk band"--an accurate-enough descriptor of his vibe.

Ultimately, Ozlo simply wants to inspire and be inspired with music. The single most important aspect of his lifelong musical endeavor is "being able to share (music). Hoping it touches someone else like it does me. As long as I'm around, I'll be making music. It's my mission. To funk the world."

More by Curtis McCrary

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