Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin
With an ear for ace improvisation and tendencies that go far beyond the borders of textbook instrumental rock the Joe Olnick Band are firing on all cylinders on Downtown. Part of a vast, lengthy discography and album number 6 in said sequence; Downtown is airtight in its composition, playing, arrangement and production (Olnick himself mixed and produced). Featuring a mastering job by Grammy award-winner Reuben Cohen who has done work for Foo Fighters and Ryan Adams this record has an immaculate major label sheen that doesn’t sand away the rough edges. Instead melodies are pushed to the forefront because of the superb sound quality and the record’s harder grooves are highlighted as well.
“Downtown” shines the spotlight on bassist Jamie Aston’s monster funk bombs and Jamie Smucker’s well-fortified percussive arsenal. These cavernous, pulsating tremors are guaranteed to get your foot tapping and head shaking as the funk overtakes your every sensory receptor. Olnick’s winding, labyrinth-like guitar lines traverse the paths paved by Frank Zappa, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Syd Barrett. The gristly, mid-tempo n’ melodic shuck and jive of “Philadelphia Moonlight (Part One)” slithers side winding psyche grooves and blues guitar stings into a leathery, elastic funk jive that’s musical hot lava that’s still plenty pleasing to the ears in terms of its many harmonic qualities.
Grooving, grinding and gravelly, “Food Truck” lends an oddball, slower take on the trio’s muscular, atmospheric funk. Smucker peppers this tune with well-measured beats as Jamie Aston’s ornery, growly bass grooves have that nasty, absolutely necessary Chris Squire or later John Entwistle grumble to them. There’s almost a blues feel to this phat, mean tune because of its halted, creepy crawly tempos. “Parkside” takes a walk down a weirder, noisier path that gives way to the howling, free-wheeling screech jazz of “Philadelphia Moonlight (Part Two)” that obviously borrows a page from both Miles Davis and John Coltrane’s unpredictable tactics. Syrupy, syncopated drum and bass rhythms jams together and off-time while Olnick’s guitar unwinds like a sonic tapestry in the bleary, freak funk of “Rush Hour.” Downtown comes to a close on a surprising note when “Sport Complex” literally comes blaring from your stereo speakers with the sole mission of incinerating everything in its path. The song’s short, economical length of 2 minutes and change loses its mind of nerve-frying electric guitar shred with so much psychedelic distortion applied to the whirlwind atmosphere that every instrumental tone sounds warped and melted. For an album full of crazy epics, it’s amazing that the album ends with its most succinct piece.
There is almost no defining Downtown. As an album it’s darn near impossible to pin down. The musicians are talented and technical to the point that the numerous swerves and sudden time signature shifts blur the lines of reality. Olnick is a stellar songwriting though because just when him and his band mates take a tune to the experimental limit, they always bring things back down to Earth with some gorgeous melodies and stark, attention grabbing sonic counterpoints. Any fans of hard-hitting, rock-leaned instrumental music with a progressive, experimental backbone will completely fall in love with this group and album.