CD Review of Don't Mess with the Dragon by Ozomatli

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Don't Mess with the Dragon
starstarstarno starno star Label: Concord
Released: 2007
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Ozo, as the multicultural L.A. nonet calls itself for short, shows us where music might be headed: While the group's music features strong music and hip-hop vibes, this album's its second for Concord, a label known for its Latin jazz. The band also recruited producer KC Porter for this record, in part because of his commercial success with Latino acts Ricky Martin and Carlos Santana. Furiously upbeat and politically centered lyrics are about all that's consistent from song to song, because the band shifts comfortably from rock to rap to blues to traditional Latin sounds in an entertaining revue showcasing its talent and open-mindedness.

If you lean to the left politically, you're going to love this record, and probably will most appreciate the musical and lyrical references to New Orleans in "Magnolia Soul." Not only does the band cop the city's legendary second-line jazz sound and funky blues, but the lyrics clearly and loudly call out President Bush and his botching of the rescue and recovery operations. While the Ozos sing of the Crescent City and clearly have what can only be called a global outlook, the record feels like one from an act that still hasn't transcended its regionality. This is a West Coast act; they own their hometown, and certainly will cement their popularity with "City Of Angels," a funky anthem group founder Wil-Dog calls an update to Randy Newman's "I Love LA," written to take into account the city’s cultural diversity. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly it could keep Ozomatli a best-kept secret for another record or two.

And while the Latin parts of the record ("Here We Go," "La Gallina," and "La Temperatura") are solid, and the rap (especially "La Segunda Mano," which sounds like what would happen if Kid Frost and Sir Mix-A-Lot got in a car wreck) is serviceable, tunes like "Magnolia Soul" and the soul-jazz "After Party" stretch the band's multi-genre reach, giving listeners a chance to appreciate them in less cacophonous settings. You come away thinking, "Damn, these guys can play. Anything they please."

~Mojo Flucke, PhD