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Joel Hoekstra

REVIEWS

Chicago guitarist Joel Hoekstra obviously has studied the life and works of Jeff Beck. Like the legendary British guitarist, Hoekstra (who may be best known as a member of the Cathy Richardson Band), Hoekstra draws upon a number of influences on his mostly-instrumental solo debut "Undefined". The main difference between the two is simple: Hoekstra is able to keep things interesting throughout the entire album.

Hoekstra draws upon a wide range of influences, from jazz-influenced writing (hence the comparisons to Beck) to blues riffing, from all-out funk-based rock to tongue-in-cheek, undefinable styles. From anyone else, this might be a task that would be impossible to accomplish. Where Hoekstra succeeds is that he has the talent to put behind the musical claims - and he brings along a crack team of musicians to help him out.

Could Hoekstra have pulled off this magic without bassist Ric Fierabracci and drummer Virgil Donati? Maybe - but it sure wouldn't have been the same. Think of what Joe Satriani might have sounded like without the talents of Stu Hamm providing an anchor on bass when Satch was making a name for himself. It could have been accomplished, but it just wouldn't have been the same. Just as Hoekstra's guitar talent is the main focus of "Undefined", the interplay between all three core musicians is essential to this project's success.

There's the key word: success. It more than adequately fits the bill for this. Tracks like "Electric Fields," "Homework," "Gorilla Man 2000" and "Kill Swing" come alive with a level of electricity I haven't heard on a primarily instrumental album in some time. Admittedly, the band does bring in several more musicians to share in the magic, but it never feels like there are too many cooks spoiling this musical gumbo being created.

Even a track like "Space Cowboy," which has nothing to do with Steve Miller's original version, succeeds - even though it's meant to be a form of comic relief to counter-act the serious musicianship that precceeded it. The carnival barker-style vocals (which I assume are Hoekstra's - no credit is given), the country-on-speed musical style - even the sounds of chickens during one of the bridges - all make this song succeed on more than the most visible level.

Richardson even makes a guest appearance as the only credited vocalist, making her presence known on the closing track "Spank Me". Granted, I liked the fact that the music was able to speak for itself throughout the bulk of this disc. But Richardson does add something special to this track, and it proves to be a lot of fun - as well as being the ideal way to bring this project to a close.

Hoekstra proves on "Undefined" that he could well be one of the most underrated guitarists of this day and age, without relying on flash and speed to make his voice heard. Each phrase he wrings out of his guitar speaks volumes for his talents, without ever making his stay feel too long. Hoekstra is bound to become a major name in the field of guitar-oriented instrumental music. Let him take his place among the greats; "Undefined" proves he's earned that right.

RATING: A
--By: Christopher Thelen, The Daily Vault

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