Joel Hoekstra - "Undefined"
(self-released 2000, CD)
From Aural Innovations #20 (July 2002)
The core of the band is the trio of Joel Hoekstra on guitar, Virgil Donati on drums, and Ric Fierabracci on bass. Hoekstra's band has some credentials of note as Donati has played with Steve Vai and Fierabracci has played with Andy Summers. They're joined throughout the set by various guests on keyboards, saxophone, banjo, mandolin and harmonica.
First a warning... this is an [almost] all instrumental GUITAR album! If you don't want to be assaulted from start to finish with mind blowing shred guitar then you should stay away. But if you love to have your face blown off by amazing guitar played with both passion and proficiency then step right this way. Hoekstra is clearly a child of 70's jazz fusion and he plays that style well. Having grown up with Return To Forever, Jeff Beck's Blow By Blow and Wired albums, and a whole host of jazz and funk artists, this brings back fond memories. In fact, one of my favorite albums of the era that the straight ahead fusion parts of the album remind me of is John Tropea's A Short Trip To Space, an album I still dust off from time to time.
Actually the CD seems almost intentionally split into two parts, the first several tracks sounding like they're long lost 70's fusion classics, and the remainder of the set exploring heavier shred rock territory. "Electric Fields" is a beautiful 70's styled jazz-fusion tune that opens the set and introduces us to Hoekstra's killer guitar. I love Fierabracci's bass sound too... deep and smooth. Sounds like a fretless. But there are some heavier proggy moments as well. "Urban Experiments" and "Mad Bar" both feature cool funky jazz and nice soloing, and the former is embellished by freaky synth efx. "Homework" reminds me of the Barney Miller theme, but veers off into heavier rockin fusion territory. And "Corny" is a kick ass rockin fusion tune with healthy doses of funk.
But starting with "Gorilla Man 2000", Hoekstra strays from his initial theme to crank out a searing rocker. The band is relentless and Hoekstra is a monster on the guitar. Seriously potent rock music with a fusion edge. "Plot In Motion" is the other heavy rocker on the album that grabbed me hard. But there's even more variety. "Kill Swing" is a good fun quirky rocking swing tune with, of course, Hoekstra's axe pyrotechnics at front and center stage. "Reflection" has kind of a spacey prog rock feel. "Slide Tune" is a light rock instrumental with parts that sound a bit like Brian May. "Afghanistan Blues" is a somber yet timely song. "Space Cowboy" is something of a novelty tune that I got a kick out of. And "Spank Me" is a Bluesy and seriously soulful song that WILL get you on your feet.
In summary, I can see Joel Hoekstra's music appealing to guitar worshippers of many tastes. On the one hand I suppose he fits nicely in the Vai/Satriani/Eric Johnson school, but I find him far more varied and interesting than what I've heard from those musicians. But if anything I've described has aroused your curiosity, then you're unlikely to be disappointed.
For more information you can visit the Joel Hoekstra web site at: http://www.joelhoekstra.com.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz