Thursday, August 16, 2012

Shuffle Demons Cluster Funk 2012

As a critic it is incredibly easy to reach a level or burn out or perhaps musical indifference when going through the motions of critical review. Let's face it, reviewing roughly 800 releases a year leaves one little time to listen simply for enjoyment. There are those rare occasions when the job of the critic and the joy of the music come together and make musical multi-tasking a thing of beauty. Welcome Shuffle Demons!

The Shuffle Demons and their first release in nineteen years, Cluster Funk makes this review a literal walk in the park. Canada in general and the Toronto area in particular are home to some great artists but one question begs to be answered. Where in the hell have these guys been for nineteen years? For those of you playing along at home, Shuffle Demons are a Canadian jazz fusion band that may quiet possible fuse old and new school jazz/funk as well as any band since Tower of Power or some of the larger Blue Note ensembles of the late 60's and early 70's. Instead of imposing my own genre tag, Shuffle Demons refer to the band as a mashup of funk and free form jazz however their vision is not limited to mere labels.

Opening with the slightly tongue in cheek "Sell Me This" which is seemingly a jab at the rampant materialism occurring in society, the horn section immediately grabs your attention with their foot to the floor articulated pop reminiscent of Tower of Power. Musical frames of reference are inherently unfair. Every artist or band has their own voice but to grasp a sonic visual of where I am coming from sometimes these references can be of great help so for me they are the Canadian Tower of Power and I mean that with great respect.  The vocals are well constructed and seem to set the table for that party band atmosphere but one that actually finds their groove without the need of the listener to ingest semi-lethal quantities of alcohol to find it with them. "All About The Hang" has an incredible cool retro groove that brought back memories of the 70's hit television show Sanford & Son. Unlike similar jazz/funk ensembles the one key ingredient to Shuffle Demons would be their improvisational chops are equal to that of just about any band on the planet. "Shanghai Shuffle" is another blistering tune guaranteed to set your hair on fire or make your musical back leg shake if that's how you roll.

So after roughly nineteen years where have they been? In 1995 the band took a break while exploring other creative ventures. Richard Underhill released his Juno nominated debut release. For those of you playing at home the Juno is the Canadian Grammy. George Koller began working with the great Holly Cole. Stich also worked with Holly Cole among others. Perry and Kelly resumed their careers as "A" list studio musicians with Kelly receiving a Juno nod in 2011.

Long story short...These cats can play!

Tracks: Sell Me This; One Good Turn; Way After Midnight; He's The Drummer; All About The Hang; Earth Song; Daddy Long Legs; Shanghai Shuffle; Fukushima; Strollin'; Bottles And Cans; On The Runway.

Personnel: Richard Underhill: alto sax, vocals; Perry White: tenor & baritone sax, vocals; Kelly Jefferson: tenor sax, vocals; George Koller: electric and acoustic bass, vocals; Stich Wynston: drums, percussion, vocals.

A taste from You Tube.