On the surface, nothing’s changed. There’s the same core line-up, the same oppositional politics, the same live shows that erupt into drum-line blessed community parties, and the same devotion to polyglot urban sound clashing. But here’s what’s new: after 12 years of collaborative song-writing, 12 years of constant touring everywhere from Denver to Tokyo to Sydney, 12 years of supporting anti-war mobilizations and global human rights movements, 12 years of pioneering Spanish-English mash-ups of hip hop, salsa, cumbia, dub, and Middle Eastern funk, and most importantly, 12 years of facing up to internal battles and personal struggles, they’ve emerged anew with their fourth full-length studio album, Don’t Mess With The Dragon, the band’s most cohesive, polished, and joyous record to date.
“There is more of a sense of personal responsibility on this one,” says bassist Wil-Dog Abers. “All of us are on this road of being more responsible in our own lives, becoming happier human beings, healthier in our lives outside of the band. In the process of making the record, people were really deep in the process of getting their lives together. It made a big difference. People growing up, people taking care of their own lives. The healthier people get, the better the music gets.”
Don’t Mess With The Dragon was written and recorded with a firm commitment to collective creation. They began writing and experimenting with songs in informal sessions in the fall of 2005 at a local Los Angeles Latino art gallery, Tropico de Nopal. Then came recording sessions in the legendary Fantasy studios in Northern California, followed by sessions at a slew of prime LA recording houses.
“It’s always a struggle to be creative together, as a unit, but this was by far our best time in the studio together,” says percussionist Jiro Yamaguchi. “It takes maturity to work together and we are all getting better at communicating. “In the past, we would be like, this song is a Raul song, this song is an Asdru song, and this song is a Justin song. There wasn’t much room for interplay. On this record, we have more interplay; all the characters work together into a whole book instead of just being in a bunch of short stories says Wil Dog.”
Much of the band’s renewed sense of musical collaboration comes from their relationship with their label, venerable jazz and Latin stalwarts Concord Records. Don’t Mess With The Dragon is Ozo’s second full length, studio offering for Concord — their longest stay with a single label.