Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Joe Olnick Band - Downtown (2017)

Written by Frank McClure, posted by blog admin

Led by experimental, innovative guitarist Joe Olnick, the Joe Olnick Band is a sizzling instrumental power trio rounded out by Jamie Aston on bass and drummer Jamie Smucker.  Downtown is the project’s 6th outing and this release is filled to the brim with diverse influences that mix rock, funk, jazz and cinema soundscapes into a prog-rock brew that’s nearly impossible to nail down. 

The blazing title cut struts wildly with a funky bass groove atop a floor thumping beat; immediately setting on an aggressive yet danceable aesthetic.  Olnick’s trippy, wah-ed out guitar work is a glorious reminder of greats like Jimi Hendrix, Tommy Bolin’s funkier jams off of Teaser or even some of the crazy German rock from the late 60s/early 70s.  It swings in a distinctive way that hooks you in and scrambles your eggs with glee.  “Philadelphia Moonlight (Part One)” is more surf-y and splashy, peddling an easygoing and laidback groove propelled by some tight, agile fill-work.  Aston lays down an alley cat prowl while Smucker locks on like a pair of crosshairs.  Olnick’s tasty licks and clever lead n’ rhythm jukes constantly comments on the rhythm section’s raucous antics.    

“Parkside” ratchets up a repeating, hypnotic funk groove by adding thoughtful layers in bite-sized pieces; a slinky flux on the bass lines here, an extra couple of snare interjections there and a hot-blooded lead bit right on top.  It never changes tempos much but the textures are constantly piling up higher and higher.  The minimalist hum of “Philadelphia Moonlight (Part Two)” is a humming, alien drone piece with a lot of amplified weirdness and single note string-strangeness to give the ears an off-the-wall, atonal workout. 

Living up to its name, “Rush Hour” burns rubber on a tire fire barrage of electrified riffs and licks as the silly slappin’, power groove of the rhythm section takes absolutely no prisoners in clearing a path to the holy groove.  Closer “Sports Complex” rips wide a full-throttle combo of punk and psychedelic guitar scorch that couldn’t possibly serve up a more teeth-kickin’ finale.  The guitar work spirals out into endless rays of that late 60s/early 70s aggressive psyche rock.  Overall, it’s a killer finale to an album that showcases many strengths from track to track. 

I feel like I’ve been hiding under a rock by just discovering Joe Olnick’s music right now in 2017.  It’s never too late to get into someone’s art but I certainly feel like I’ve been missing out.  Olnick, Aston and Smucker possess a solid funk background and some superbly melodic free-jamming chops but a willingness to explore the more dangerous, threatening boundaries of rock n’ roll and that’s what makes this record a pleasure to experience.  It really is best treated as an experience, so that means getting a pair of headphones and playing it from start to finish without interruption.  Stick with the longer, winding jams for the ride because this power trio packs each tune with subtle changes that make for a challenging but rewarding listen.    

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