Written by Mike Yoder, posted by blog admin
Six albums deep into a rich, constantly evolving career Joe Olnick drops Downtown, perhaps his band’s finest work yet. Instrumental bands have it tough because even has a huge fan of instrumental music, some of my favorite bands without vocalists I still find myself imaging vocal melodies too. Downtown has the distinct honor of not really inspiring me to do that because I was so completely involved with the seven tracks on offer here. From funk to jazz to hard rock to ambient trance there’s a million different styles packed into every inch of this record.
The funky wah-wah guitars and concrete thick bass lines of opener “Downtown” builds up a groovy head of steam in the first half. Drummer Jamie Smucker lays into a pocket beat full of spectral cymbal ghosting and jazzy snare marches while the song’s main groove eventually breaks off and explores several varying outcomes. Olnick’s guitar work morphs into wrap around blue leads as an autumnal keyboard drone smothers the soulful licks and tight rhythms beneath a blanket of truly offbeat drone. The two-part “Philadelphia Moonlight” toys with opaque country strum, church organ and bluesy rhythms before turning the corner into a funk chill-out that alternates rural twang with extensive lead bits. In this cut the rhythm section lays back and feels out the groove instead of charging to the forefront. Joe’s guitar work is always a centerpiece and the bassist and drummer play a very complimentary role but do take chances to catch their own soloist style grooves. Jamie Aston’s taut, kinetic bass slaps forge their own direction on more than a few occasions throughout this track. Returning a couple of songs later, “Philadelphia Moonlight (Part Two)” is a surprisingly creepy, eerie piece; more like an anxious horror movie score than a relaxed moonlit funk jam. Joe Olnick obviously likes taking risks and this like most of them pays off by altering the album’s mood yet again in a very significant way.
“Food Truck” is a suave, sexy mid-tempo funk number with a swaggering, dexterous swing present in both the hard liner bass grooves and the wah-inflected guitar surgery. Olnick coils his leads like a cobra ready to strike and strike they do as the strictly jazz cymbal taps and sneaky, off-time snare fills careen Joe’s licks straight at the listener’s temples with wild reckless abandon. This track just shows how playful these cats are with a groove and just how well they know each other’s styles. Relying on sparse guitar/bass notes and a very sleight of hand drum performance, “Parkside” wrings every drops of goodness for a sparse lead-in that mesmerizes its audience in the same way a hypnotist enraptures a client with a swinging watch. Catharsis is reached in the cut’s last quarter with Olnick really digging into a trippy solo and taking it all the way to the bank. “Rush Hour” herds the album back into the heady funk/rock/blues brew that is the band’s obvious calling card before psychotic closer “Sports Complex” goes into a fury of high-speed, riff-based hard rock.
Downtown is an eclectic masterwork that always hits and never misses. This is indeed the true definition of power trio though it’s Olnick’s show and his writing and guitar work are a skyward highlight of the entire affair. For anyone that’s looking for instrumental rock that seizes the attention span without becoming background music, this is exactly what you’re looking for.