Unless you’ve been living in cave somewhere, you know that Ozomatli is the most ethnically-diverse band in the universe. But to cop a phrase, it don’t a mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, and the politically-charged L.A. band’s Latin/salsa, reggae, urban hip-hop, world beat and jazz-funk soundscape does groove. That’s the beauty of this large, experimental ensemble: they’re a thinking (every)man’s dance band. My only disappointment, at times, has come with their multi-culti and eclectic musical tastes resulting in a sometimes overpowering stylistic collision. For instance, I found the title of Ozo’s 2001 release, Embrace the Chaos, to be ironically on-point. But the group is terrifically focused on its forthcoming disc Don’t Mess with the Dragon, set for release on April 3. Bassist Wil-Dog Abers suggests on the band’s website that there is more interplay between the band members on this collection, one that fostered a more communal vibe. He’s not bullshitting, either. Sure, there are a few choice songs of social substance, including “Temperatura” (inspired by last May’s pro-immigration marches) and “Magnolia Soul,” a terrific attack on the Dubya administration’s shameful mishandling of the Katrina relief effort. But more importantly, Don’t Mess with the Dragon is a cohesive, infectious collection of dance-inducing tunes that still retain Ozo’s trademark boundary-blurring. The title track pushes Lin Cheng’s tasty erhu playing into an intoxicating meringue chant; “After Party” is spot-on for old-school R&B; and “La Segunda Mano,” featuring Quetzal’s Martha Gonzales, mixes traditional son jarocho with hip-hop—and it works! Now this is the Ozomatli I’ve been waiting for. (John Roos)
Ozomatli performs at the Key Club at Morongo, 49500 Seminole Rd., Cabazon, (951) 755-5391. Sat., 8 p.m. $25-$35. 18+. Also appearing at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 629-0377. Thurs., March 8, 7 p.m. $20. All ages.