Iguana (EP)

Joe Olnick Band

Independent release, 2019


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The fact that guitarist / composer / bandleader / producer Joe Olnick has issued six albums of original, independently released, 100% instrumental fusion music suggests both considerable chops and considerable determination.

What caught my ear with Olnick’s latest outing Iguana—and something has to when the music is all instrumental—is that while his root genre seems to be funk, his musical style is more of an everything bagel, skipping effortlessly from grooving r&b into airy space-rock, jam, and even rather Americana-flavored instrumentals, nailing the overall vibe for each, while carving his own muscular lines backed by the assertive rhythm section of Jamie Aston (bass) and Stew Bradley (drums). The my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Iguana EP is a brief set—just five full tracks and 18 minutes of music—that nonetheless caught my interest with its variety and evident craft.

Kickoff track “Sticky Floor Nightclub” is pure funk, featuring a deep, driving groove with tasteful soloing over the top, steadily building the late-night nightclub vibe suggested by the title until it’s overtaken by crowd noise at the close. Then, without warning, you’re immediately transported to the dark side of the moon for a slow, dreamy blues (“Don’s Theme”) that feels like a lost Pink Floyd instrumental. It’s liquid, spacious, elegant and deeply evocative, and would surely earn a smile from David Gilmour. As if to cement the musical reference, Olnick throws in an odd little 26-second ambient interlude (“February 2nd”) before getting back down to business.

The title of “Misadventures In Hi-Fi” suggests an R.E.M. homage, and the layered guitars do have a bit of a Peter Buck feel in places, but it’s really pretty straight up instrumental rock, and rather repetitive at that, with the most unexpected element being the addition of a dog barking. “Why?” then offers a pleasant interlude, featuring a pair of double-tracked acoustics exploring an upbeat, pretty melody for a spare 1:49.

Closer “Hot Rocks” cements Olnick’s ability to genre-hop, feeling like nothing so much as a lost Doobie Brothers instrumental from about 1974, full of chunky rhythm guitar (think Tom Johnston) with a nimble, sunny lead riding the wave (think Patrick Simmons). Olnick and crew recreate that distinctive ’70s West Coast rock sound beautifully, right down to the hint of a country lilt in the main riff.

And then Iguana is done, too soon, a sampler tray of an EP that leaves you curious what the full meal might taste like. Flavorful and well-executed throughout is my guess. Joe Olnick has tremendous chops and a great feel for each of the genres he essays on this brief EP, and I’m ready for more whenever he is.

Rating: B

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