Ozomatli : Fire Away


If Lennon, Marley and Bono proved politics belongs in music, Los Angeles’ Ozomatli shows what music can do for politics. The band—a seven-piece international outfit—moonlights as Cultural Ambassadors to Asia, Africa and the Middle East. They’ve played for the Obamas. And they want you to stop what you’re doing and fill out your census form.
"They’re pan-cultural," says Tony Berg, producer of Ozomatli’s fifth album, Fire Away.  "It’s like visiting seven continents simultaneously."
That can be tough traveling in 36 minutes, however, and Ozomatli proves as much on this live band’s latest studio effort. While Ozomatli’s chemistry has never sounded better, the recordings don’t measure up to the fiestas the band brings to stages around the globe.
Fire Away hits at first like a cocktail spiked with the right stuff—"45" is immediately contagious, and "It’s Only Paper," the album’s first single, sounds like a jazzy Jack Johnson preaching the pitfalls of money. It’s Ozo’s instrumental variety, though prolific and measured, that overwhelms the overall spirit of the album on corny numbers like "Nadas Por Free" (one rap lyric advises the listener to "check my status," before following up with "a.k.a. Señor Badass.").  
To its credit, Ozomatli offers something for everyone. Each member of the group, after all, represents a different part of the world. Ozo’s sound, rich with hip-hop, salsa, funk and jazz, has underscored the band’s outspoken crusade for social justice since the mid-’90s. "Gay Vatos in Love" proudly salutes gay marriage over Ulises Bella’s wailing ’50s-era saxophone, while the psychedelic "Love Comes Down"—Fire Away’s finest moment—hits home for lovers everywhere but arrives too late in the album.
Rapid Latin percussion and energetic anthems of love only distract the listener from a disjointed work that ends as abruptly as it begins. These Grammy winners don’t quite capture the live sound they’ve perfected, but Ozomatli has only gotten better at what it does best: spreading cheer to parts of the world that need it most.

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