Novox Music Inc & JRZ System
What's the problem with
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 didnt 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?"
"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
"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
E-mail JRZ System at:
Booking: Troy Johnson at 402/291-3420
or Floyd Conaway at 402/593-9050