lazyhome         reviews         hype         new.gif (913 bytes) webboard                interviews

JRZ.jpg (20550 bytes)

JRZ System

Greenhouse Effect

Novox Music Inc & JRZ System


What's the problem with instrumental-only bands?

If you're talking about rock bands, the danger is that you can come embarrassingly close to sounding like a jazz fusion outfit. That wasn't such a bad thing in the '70s. I still remember picking up a copy of Jeff Beck's Blow by Blow and thinking it was cooler than shit. Beck already was a proven commodity, having worked with a number of classic rock bands, including the Yardbirds. Blow by Blow was something of a rarity in that it, along with Edgar Winter's album, produced a successful single that received tons of air play. When was the last time that happened with an instrumental rock album? Well, there's Joe Satriani. And didn’t the Zappa brothers put out an instrumental album? Who knows… and who really cares? Because other than to jazz fusion/John Tesch/Kenny G enthusiasts, it's hard to sell an instrumental rock album these days. No, it's pretty much impossible.

The reasons are obvious. Instrumentals get stale fast. Whereas an instrumental sprinkled into a CD of traditional vocal-based rock music is refreshing or at least interesting, an entire CD of instrumentals can be taxing to the listener's concentration … or, in most cases, not taxing enough, causing your mind to wander about five minutes into the first track.

Not exactly a pretty picture for an instrumental rock outfit like JRZ System. An Omaha product, the trio of guitarist Mark Zavon, drummer Todd Roberson and bassist Troy Johnson know what they're up against and greet the challenge head-on with "Greenhouse Effect." It's a fairly astounding sounding CD for an instrumental recording.

I've seen this outfit live a couple times, and they pretty much deliver what they've put down on CD. You can tell they're craftsmen, having polished their show to a well-oiled sheen. And the crowd seems to enjoy it, but invariably you'll hear from someone who's wandered into the venue:

"Cool, who are these guys?"

"JRZ System."

"Cool. What's the deal, who sings?"

"No one, they're an instrumental outfit."

"Really, are they looking for a vocalist?"

"No, dumbass, they're an instrumental band, they don't want a singer."

"Uh, like Joe Satriani?"

"Yeah, dumbass, like Joe fuckin' Satriani."

And so on... Now could these tracks support vocals? Maybe, but probably not, they're clearly not structured for vocals, though most have weave a chorus-style movement somewhere in the blend -- in other words, there's always a hook. But it seems only to act as an anchor to bounce ideas off of and is always secondary to showcasing the bandmember's skills.

Does it matter if there's no vocals? Not to the instrumental lovers out there. But to those of us who crave vocals in their rock and roll, it might seem as if there's something missing.

With all that said, Greenhouse Effect is probably the best rock instrumental record I've heard since I picked up my Jeff Beck album so many moons ago. It definitely blows lightweights like Joe S. out of the water (I've never been a fan of that particular alien surfer). The first three tracks are about as varied as you can get in an instrumental rock CD, with the rave up Tropical Cancer accurately placed at the front -- it's the strongest, most clever track on the CD and seems to sum up what JRZ is after. The Band's take on Tommy Bolin's Savannah Woman sports a breezy, tango melody. RR #1 is a promising honky-tonk blues number that is way too short -- easily the coolest track on the CD that your local blues enthusiasts could enjoy listening to for 20 minutes instead of its meager minute or so. It's an unfortunate introduction to the Van Halen-esque Polk County Shuffle, a track that brings nothing interesting to this CD and falls in the "rock and roll cliché" category -- stay away from this style, boys... (though I'm sure it's probably a crowd favorite). What the Funk,  lights up with a frisky shuffle guitar line and deep-twang bass before the band sadly change gears to standard rock fusion, leaving little doubt that you're listening to three long-haired white boys.

JRZ is a true instrumental trio. Whereas the melodies' responsibility falls squarely on Zavon's shoulders, there's no question this band is only as strong as its parts. Roberson's drum riffage is really the major factor to giving the CD its varied sound, and Johnson's bass holds the two together tighter than an engine block. His baselines always compliment Zavon through his various sonic cascades. In other words, this isn't a lead guitarist's vanity project.

Too many times, however, the band strays into familiar, sonically flat territory (the promising Bonedaddy... Don't Ask, Polk Co. Shuffle, Riverside) that lean closely to the dead-end world of Eddie-rock/jazz/fusion.

All said, JRZ manages to rock without vocals, but that doesn't stop me from asking "what if?" A vocalist would most likely disrupt this band's perfect balance, and besides, if JRZ wanted a vocalist, they would have hired one a long time ago -- or sang themselves, as they appear to do quite nicely on the CD's hidden track. Maybe it's time to just let go of the rock instrumental stereotype and enjoy the music.

Contact info:

JRZ System website

E-mail JRZ System at:

Booking: Troy Johnson at 402/291-3420 or Floyd Conaway at 402/593-9050

Back to