AT 23, MAKOTO OZONE is probably the most gifted young pianist in jazz, with an admirable sense of structure and line supported by flawless technique. On his debut album, "Makoto Ozone," his touch is exquisite, and his improvisation is so fluid and assured that he can easily keep pace with the likes of Gary Burton and Eddie Gomez. Ozone has almost everything a jazz pianist should have -- except an individual and distinctive voice.
"Crystal Love," for instance, is a duet with Burton that so closely follows the model set by Burton's duets with Chick Corea that the performance sounds like mere homage. Similarly, "I Need You Here" seems almost an exercise in Bill Evans-styled balladry. It isn't blind imitation, for Ozone is not copping licks so much as insinuating himself into a familiar approach. It all suggests that he still has a way to grow before he finds his own voice.
No matter. As this debut shows, Ozone is always listenable, even when he's less than original. From the subtle harmonies of the two-part "Endless Season" to the skittering line of "Flight," the pianist displays a degree of musicality in his playing that makes the prospect of following his progress inviting. MAKOTO OZONE -- "Makoto Ozone" (Columbia BFC 39624); appearing with the Gary Burton Quartet on Saturday at The Barns, Wolf Trap.