Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Demon Fuzz - Afreaka! (1970 uk, extraordinary psych soul heavy funk prog afro-jazz acid rock, 2009 remaster with extra tracks)

Some bands seem only to have existed to provide future generations with cool samples. So it is with UK-based band Demon Fuzz, often classified as Afro-rock, who existed for a few years from 1968 into the early 1970s. Although Afreaka! is a good, occasionally great album, the band’s story is even more interesting.

Demon Fuzz was formed in London by a group of Caribbean ex-pats – Trinidadian saxophonist and percussionist Paddy Corea, keyboard player Ray Rhoden, guitarist Winston Raphael Joseph, bass player Sleepy Jack Joseph, singer Selwyn “Smokey” Adams, trombonist Clarence Brooms Crosdale and drummer Steven John. Initially things went well for the band, and they signed to Dawn Records, an offshoot of Pye, then a major label in the UK, if not exactly a signifier of quality. But the UK media didn’t really know what to make of a Black band that didn’t play reggae or soul, and, with little promotion, Demon Fuzz’s very of-its-era brand of semi-improvised funk-jazz-rock struggled to find an audience (though they were a live staple in the festivals of the era).

The band’s “Afro-rock” tag mostly seems to derive from the title, since the original album itself consists of five long, occasionally slightly aimless but often hypnotic and always funky jams, with only the slightest of African influences, unless you take into account that pretty much all western popular music ultimately has its roots in the continent. The first track is the 10-minute “Past Present and Future,” a driving but slightly bloated showcase for the band’s excellent ensemble playing. Initially, it’s an intriguing mixture of ominous, heavy, fuzz-toned guitar and percussion which becomes even better with the introduction of a slightly Middle Eastern beat, wah-wah guitar, ceremonial-sounding brass and groovy organ. But once everything is in place and the track really takes off about halfway through, it becomes a far more conventional but still enjoyable piece, a bit like an extended Deep Purple or Uriah Heep jam with added brass, which then softens into a more old-fashioned, bland rock ‘n’ roll feel, albeit with the unusual feature of a trombone solo.

The more concise, five-minute “Disillusioned Man” is more characterful, but could almost be the product of a different band. Light and jazzy, it features some great drumming and a nice, charismatic lead vocal by Adams that suggests that the band could have had a very different, more chart-centric career. To do that they would have had to forgo the song’s extended soloing, which would have been a mistake though; Corea’s light and fluid solo is one of the song’s most appealing features.

From the album’s title and cover, Afreaka! seems to suggest something dark, edgy and radical, but in fact the fairly standard and slightly unadventurous (if very enjoyable) jazz-rock continues throughout. Though the promotional material promises – and again, the album’s title hints at – the influence of African music, the eight-minute “Another Country” is an Electric Flag cover, and that really indicates the kind of direction Demon Fuzz were looking in for inspiration. The track isn’t vastly different from the 1968 original in style; it’s pretty much jazz-rock, being a little reminiscent also of Uriah Heep’s immortal “Wake Up (Set your Sights)” with its very late-‘60s hippie atmosphere. The song features another appealing vocal performance and is notable for an abrupt change of pace/mood, from organ-led rock to an atmospheric, sultry, Eastern-flavored sax solo in place of the elaborate Mike Bloomfield jazz guitar solo of the orginal. It’s a strong, forceful performance, but the guitar is oddly muted in comparison with the gritty rock tone that opened the album, and after snaking effortlessly along, the song ends with unexpected abruptness and feels slightly truncated, even at eight minutes long.

“Hymn to Mother Earth” is another eight-minute track, and though in a similar mold to the songs that precede it, it feels like it should be the album’s centerpiece. A slow, melodic, dense and initially, tranquil, organ-heavy paean to the Earth that is a reminder that ecological concerns are hardly new, even if they were largely ignored in the past. As with most of the album’s tracks, the song launches into another, busier phase at the halfway point, transforming into Afreaka!’s most convincing jazz-funk section, the sax playing against the percussion, bass and organ before the impassioned vocal comes back in and gives the song a kind of psychedelic, quasi-gospel, or at least spiritual lift as it fades away. It’s probably the album’s most well-balanced song; neither the vocal section or the soloing dominates and the transition between the different passages is smooth and logical.

Even if the whole album had been up this standard though, Afreaka! would be more of an interesting minor curio than a lost masterpiece. But in fact, the album continues on with more of the same. “Mercy (Variation No. 1)” was originally the album’s closing track and it begins strongly with pulsing bass, clattering percussion and a bit of nice wah-wah guitar, but its groove, though bustling and atmospheric, is so repetitive that the track’s nine minutes feels interminable, despite a somewhat jumbled change of time signature early on. It’s not bad though, dramatic and hypnotic, a rare example – or possibly the only one – of the album sounding something like it looks.

Initially, Afreaka! ended on a high with this performance, but Radiation’s reissue follows the example of the reissue by including the band’s only other release for Dawn, the “I Put a Spell on You” maxi-single. Surprisingly, the version of “I Put a Spell on You,” though strong enough, is far less distinctive and less atmospheric than the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins original. Smooth and organ-centric, it’s a very pleasant version and complements the album tracks nicely, but it isn’t hugely distinguished, and limited to the three-and-a-half minute format, the band feels a little cramped and compromised.

“Message to Mankind” is similarly succinct, one of the most soul-oriented tracks the band recorded, with Adams and Rhoden particularly shining, though the brass is nowhere to be heard. The final track is, depending on your point of view, promisingly or unpromisingly-titled “Fuzz Oriental Blues,” but aside from a great, driving beat, it feels almost like a mashup of various different tunes, like one of those old Hammond Organ covers albums from the ‘70s. It’s a nice showcase for the band’s excellent interplay and especially for Rhoden’s Procol Harum-like organ playing, but at under seven minutes and with little soloing apart from the organ, it feels like they are just getting into it as the song thunders to a halt.

Afreaka! is definitely not an album that needs to be approached with caution, but it comes with a lot of keywords which are slightly misleading. It is funky and jazzy and it has been sampled by a handful of hip-hop artists, but it’s not quite the cool treasure trove of beats, bass and flute that you might hope for if you came across its imposing cover in a thrift store. However, it is enjoyable, accomplished and easy to listen to, especially if you have an appetite for early ‘70s jazz-rock atmospheres and long organ solos. 
by Will Pinfold, November 15, 2022
1. Past Present And Future - 9:50
2. Disillusioned Man - 4:58
3. Another Country (Ron Polte) - 8:28
4. Hymn To Mother Earth - 7:00
5. Mercy (Variation No. 1) (Ray Harris) - 9:20
6. I Put A Spell On You (Screamin' Jay Hawkins) - 3:54
7. Message To Mankind - 3:52
8. Fuzz Oriental Blues - 6:48
All compositions by Ray Rhoden, Winston Raphael Joseph except where noted
Bonus Tracks 6-8

Demon Fuzz
*Sleepy Jack Joseph - Bass
*Ayinde Folarin - Congas
*Paddy Corea - Congas, Flute, Sax, Arrangements
*Steven John - Drums
*W. Raphael Joseph - Guitar
*Ray Rhoden - Piano, Organ
*Clarance Brooms Crosdale - Trombone
*Smokey Adams - Vocals

Supersister - Pudding En Gisteren (1972-73 holland, impressive canterbury prog rock, 2008 remaster with bonus tracks))

Originally called Sweet O.K. Supersister, Supersister is formed in The Hague by Robert-Jan Stips (vocals and keyboard), Sacha van Geest (flute), Marco Vrolijk (drums) and Ron van Eck (bass). Supersister’s progressive sound sticks out among the beat and rock music and the band spearheads the local hippie scene. In the spring of 1970 Supersister’s first single She Was Naked is released. It’s the group’s first hit and it earns them a record deal with Polydor.

The third Supersister album is a big favorite with prog fans because it provides a good representation of the group's combination of Caravan-inspired jamming and Zappa-esque humor. Pudding and Gisteren consists of a pair of pop songs and pair of lengthy prog jams. The songs are instantly appealing: both "Radio" and "Psychopath" combine witty narratives with jaunty, hook-laden tunes that pack plenty of musical complexity into a compact space. 

The longer-form jams show great technical prowess and the occasional element of wacky humor ("Judy Goes on Holiday" finishes with an unexpected but amusing parody of doo wop music), but they lack the cohesiveness and memorable themes that define the best prog rock epics. That said, fans of art rock are likely to enjoy this album thanks to the group's considerable instrumental chops: Robert Jan Stips in particular shines, coaxing a variety of sounds out of his electric piano to fit the shifting styles of the music. Ultimately, the appeal of Pudding and Gisteren will depend on the listener's tolerance for eccentricity and musical self-indulgence, but it will offer plenty of surprises and musical fireworks for the patient prog rock enthusiast. 
by Donald A. Guarisco
1. Radio (Robert Jan Stips, Ron Van Eck, Sacha Van Geest, Marco Vrolijk) - 4:01
2. Supersisterretsisrepus (Robert Jan Stips) - 0:18
3. Psychopath (Robert Jan Stips) - 3:59
4. Judy Goes On Holiday (Robert Jan Stips, Ron Van Eck, Sacha Van Geest, Marco Vrolijk) - 12:39
5. Pudding En Gisteren - Music For Ballet (Robert Jan Stips, Ron Van Eck) - 21:01
6. Dead Dog (Robert Jan Stips) - 2:43
7. Wow (Live Version) (Robert Jan Stips, Ron Van Eck, Sacha Van Geest, Marco Vrolijk) - 12:59
Bonus Tracks 6,7

*Robert Jan Stips - Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Vibes, Harmonica
*Sacha Van Geest - Flutes, Tenor Sax, Vocals
*Ron Van Eck - 4 & 6-String Basses, Guitar, Harmonica
*Marco Vrolijk - Drums, Congas, Percussion, Vocals