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Shuffle Demons - Clusterfunk


Shuffle Demons

Linus Entertainment 270152

Available from True North Records.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Heh! Great play-on-words title: Clusterfunk, as well as an odd but very workable configuration (3 saxes, 1 bass, 1 set of drums…and 5 singing throats) resulting in what is most definitely a highly funky night out on the movin' groovin' town from yet another ensemble of kuh-razy Cuh-nadians. There sure are some talented folks up there! The Shuffle Demons come replete with a history and even a Guiness World Record, having coordinated 930 saxophones playing the Hockey Night in Canada theme all at once in Toronto's Dundas Square. Hee-haw! Sounds like a segment of South Park, but it's true. That had to have been unreal, but don't figure that such a cacaphonously leviathan outpouring is typical of these hipsters' gig. It ain't. What they purvey is zesty, jumpin', humorous, swingin', blow session jazz-funk that interpolates a good deal more of the 70s fusion vibe than ya might expect.

Hell, these bad actors go so far as to tout righteous hand-painted suits making 'em seem like long-lost members of the Bonzo Dog Band, but when the cats get cookin', you're going to hear Mingus/Kirk style irreverence and killer chops with elements of loopy Tower of Power, Passport, Kraan, Either-Orchestra, even shards of Strata Institute and such, nor would Gil Evans have passed on the blokes, knowing clever skillful chopsters when he heard 'em. The vocals tend to bluesy turns (Mose Allison, etc.), War (yep, Lowridery in places), Louis Prima echoes, and strong working class undertones, but the guys seem to have absorbed an encyclopedia of influences, as we see in the Weather Report-y Earth Song.

Forget using Clusterfunk as the background music for the next meeting of your local book club or even the annual board conference of the Mister Rogers Niceness Appreciation Society 'cause peeps is gonna be dancin', carousin', drinkin', and be-boppin' all over the place as soon as the first cut, Sell Me This, jumps out, amigo. No doubt about it. Not only is the band popular in The Great White North and the upper U.S. festival circuit but has earned awards and acclaim far and wide. Mssrs. Underhill, White, Jefferson, Koller, & Wynston are doing something quite unique in covering myriad musical bases. Whether you just want a lot of way-shakin' jump numbers or outside stretches of dexterity and imagination—as in Way after Midnight and Fukushima—well, ya gets it all, Hiram, and lots more besides. Heck, hook 'em up in concert with an ensemble like Soullive (here), and you'll have a night to remember.

Track List:

  • Sell Me This (Richard Underhill)
  • One Good Turn (George Koller)
  • Way After Midnight (Underhill / Koller / Wynston)
  • He's the Drummer (Koller / Wynston / Underhill,
  • All About the Hang (George Koller)
  • Earth Song (Richard Underhill)
  • Daddy Long Legs (Koller / Underhill / Wynston / Parker)
  • Shanghai Shuffle (Underhill / Koller)
  • Fukushima (Stitch Wynston)
  • Strollin' (Stitch Wynston)
  • Bottles And Cans (Richard Underhill)
  • On the Runway (Kelly Jefferson)

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

ClusterFunk (Linus)
Shuffle Demons

ShuffleDemons Clusterfunk 270152 large Five Canadian quintets, Demonic and otherwise (CD reviews)The KISS of Canadian jazz is back.

I refer, of course, to those costumed, high-energy beatnik cut-ups, the Shuffle Demons. (Lest you might disagree with my analogy remember: Gene Simmons was a Demon too.)

Spadina Bus, Out Of My House, Roach and The Puker made the sax-heavy Toronto group, now 28 years old and still going strong, hip before there was hipsters. With ClusterFunk, their first album of original material in more than 17 years, the Demons are back, delivering extroverted, hard-hitting crowd-pleasers like the groovy One Good Turn, the slow and nasty Daddy Long Legs and He’s the Drummer, a much deserved salutatory rap to that slamming Demon Stich Wynston and drummers everywhere. Here’s a slightly potty-mouthed, bikini-enhanced version of that track that also features two members of the Barenaked Ladies guesting:

But the Demons have much more than grooves and goofiness on their minds. Most notably, Demon Rich Underhill is a prominent voice for social justice, environmentalism and other left-wing causes — not just a wailing alto saxophonist. Thus, his tune Sell Me This is a send of mindless consumerism, “1,000 useless things headed straight to the dump.” Shanghai Shuffle is a companion piece, pointing to the exploitation of Chinese workers. Bottles and Cans is  a booty-shaking ode to recycling. Fukashima and Earth Song are instrumentals that flow from funk to free, nodding respectively to Japan’s recent nuclear disaster and the planet as a whole.

Those who might find the shades, suits and shtick a bit much can just focus on the music. As caricaturish as the Demons can seem, their music stands on its own merits. The oversized, viscerally appealing rhythms, the smart and tightly executed horn arrangements and passionate improvisatory flights combine for a mighty wallop. Instrumental tunes such as bassist George Koller’s breakneck swinger Way After Midnight, drummer Wynston’s reggae blast Strollin’ and especially tenor saxophonist Kelly Jefferson’s On The Runway would boost anyone’s jazz cred.

Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Shuffle Demons – Clusterfunk – Linus

The Shuffle Demons know from jazz to funk, and how to shift from party-down to down-tempo.


Published on September 9, 2012

Shuffle Demons – Clusterfunk – Linus

Shuffle Demons – Clusterfunk – Linus 270152, 54:10 ***1/2:

(Richard Underhill – alto saxophone, vocals, co-producer; Perry White – tenor and baritone saxophone, vocals, co-producer; Kelly Jefferson – tenor saxophone, vocals, co-producer; George Keller – electric and acoustic bass, vocals, producer; Stich Wynston – drums, percussion, vocals, co-producer)

How do you get people to spontaneously rise up and move to the music, whirl and dance, grab the nearest stranger and swing across the floor? Just punch up the speakers and put on the latest, long-awaited release from Canadian quintet Shuffle Demons. For over a quarter century the jazz-funk-fusion artists have entertained crowds from Australia to America and from New Zealand to the old world charms of Europe. Clusterfunk is the group’s eighth release and first of all original material in close to 20 years, the result of the ensemble’s 2004 reunion tour (they broke up in 1997), which celebrated a Shuffle Demons greatest hits package.

The band may best be known above the 49th parallel, since their 1986 debut, Streetniks, had a surprise hit with “Spadina Bus”; they have been seen on Canadian television shows; and the Toronto-based musicians have garnered much praise and some Canadian music awards. But many tours and concert appearances at jam band and jazz venues outside the Maple Leaf nation has also generated a receptive audience which appreciates the group’s high-energy live performances. That no-holds-barred deportment vividly comes alive on the seven vocals and five instrumentals which make up the 54-minute Clusterfunk. The three-sax, bass and drums lineup creates a palpable party atmosphere right from the get-go on the sardonic “Sell Me This,” where the horn section has an ear-catching funk orientation reminiscent of Tower of Power or The Brecker Brothers. Electric bassist George Keller lays down a thick bass beat while drummer Stich Wynston keeps the backbeat and groove going. Lyrically, “Sell Me This” brings to mind the parodist/mass media irony parlayed by The Tubes, with couplets like “I don’t care if we are headed to disaster/I just want to get my junk food faster.” There’s even an emcee who echoes Fee Waybill’s larger-than-life persona. The mid-tempo “He’s the Drummer” has a similar, quirky attraction, although the minimal lines don’t say much; however, there is some excellent sax soloing. “All About the Hang” has a retro soulful tang, which relates how everyone enjoys a good time, from CEOs and British royalty to Joe Schmo, and from “Juliet and Romeo to JFK and Jackie O.” The album title refers to the heady funk-fueled “Daddy Long Legs,” about a spider on the wall not Fred Astaire, although the titular arachnoid does some dancing. “Daddy Long Legs” has a persuasive shuffle, memorable sax interaction and a rolling percussive charisma: it’s not often alto, tenor and baritone saxophones get together in a jazz-funk triple play.

Although the members of Shuffle Demons like witty wordplay, the quintet’s reputation is not built on narrative strengths, which is why their instrumental prowess is always at the forefront. The five instrumentals are prime pieces. “Way After Midnight” has a quickened hard-boppish pace and is a real cooker, where Keller (on acoustic bass) and Wynston maintain a loose, slightly earthy beat while the three sax players display an r&b influence. This cut is evocative of some of Sonny Rollins’ material (think the good-natured “Did You See Harold Vick?”). Shuffle Demons exhibit their ecologically-edged side on “Earth Song,” a contemporary groove track with a notable Keller arco solo, which provides an almost disconcerting balance against the funky, urban meter. There is a comparable swagger on “Fukushima,” which is dedicated to the victims of the recent, tragic nuclear disaster. While others might have produced a wistful, reflective composition, Shuffle Demons craft something with more chaos and clamor, obviously inspired by the confusion and pandemonium which followed the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. There’s a cool jazz/Caribbean posture to the sauntering “Strollin’,” another vehicle for the saxes: this has a genuine jazz attitude and drive, and suggests the spirit (but not necessarily the tone or sound) of Monty Alexander’s work. Shuffle Demons end with the down-tempo “On the Runway,” the sort of gig-closing, last-call tune which puts listeners in a somewhat melancholy mood and proves if Shuffle Demons wanted to do a straightforward jazz record, the results would be probably be quite good.

TrackList: 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’; Bottle and Cans; On the Runway.

—Doug Simpson

It's been close to 20 years since Canadian jazz-funk-fusion band The Shuffle Demons released an album of new material, but this year they're back with Clusterfunk, a collection of original tunes likely to get fans wondering why on earth it took so long. More than likely it will garner them some new fans as well. Often compared to Tower of Power, The Shuffle Demons, led by the alto sax of Richard Underhill, really have a sound of their own when they are at their best. Besides Underhill, the quintet features Perry White (not to be confused with the editor of the The Daily Planet) on tenor and baritone sax, Kelly Jefferson on tenor sax, George Koller on electric and acoustic bass, and Stich Wynston on drums. All join in on vocals.

The new album has 12 tracks, of which seven have vocals and five are instrumentals. "SelI Me This" opens with a blast against modern consumer culture, a theme which in some ways informs a number of the vocal numbers. "Bottles and Cans" has a man scavenging through the excesses of society looking for treasures wherever he can. "Shanghai Shuffle" talks about working 12 hours a day for a dollar an hour to fill the big box store. "All About the Hang," has a retro vibe addressed to the workaholics out there. Don't waste your time looking for the dough, because "it's all about the hang." Set these vocals in some funky jazz riffs and you've got something going on.

But it's when the band shows off its jazz chops on the five instrumentals that the album really hits its groove. George Koller's "Way After Midnight," the album's first instrumental, shows just what these guys can do. The Underhill composition "Earth Song" has an eerie vibe all its own. If some of the vocal tracks seem dated at times, there is nothing dated about the instrumentals. Stich Wynton's "Fukushima," dedicated to the Japanese quake victims, is a raucous scream at what would seem to be a nature indifferent to man and his suffering. It is a heart wrenching piece. His "Strollin'" makes for a swinging contrast. "On the Runway," a Kelly Jefferson composition that closes the album, is a veritable jazz tone poem. It may well be the highlight of the album, although I must say all the instrumentals are impressive.

All in all, Clusterfunk marks a welcome return to form for a popular band that had done some fine work in the past. It is an album that shows the maturity they have gained over the years. There may still be a bit of that energetic playfulness that is so infectious in the video of "Spadina Bus," the hit from their debut album, but these are now mature musicians. They can still be playful—listen to "He's the Drummer"—but the music that will stick with you stems from the passion of "Fukushima" and the dynamism of "Way After Midnight."


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.

Shuffle Demons put on a Cluster Funk at Lula Lounge

Posted by Roger Cullman / July 29, 2012

Shuffle Demons Lula LoungeThe Shuffle Demons are back with a vengeance with Cluster Funk, their first new studio release in 19 years, which had its CD release party Thursday night at Lula Lounge.

After seeing them a couple of years ago at The Orbit Room, I knew they were up to something special again. They started their set on the street -- where they first earned their cred -- in front of the club, and went on to the stage to play a double set of electrified jazzed-up funk.

Shuffle Demons at Lula LoungeRichard Underhill led the quintet, all dressed in Kurt Swinghammer's lively hand-painted suits. Cluster Funk's name comes from a sound guy the band met during the SXSW music festival in Texas, explained Underhill. "He said, 'There be daddy long legs everywhere on the wall in one big cluster funk!'"

The night was filled with raucous versions of Shuffle Demons classics like "Get Out of My House, Roach" and "Funkin' Pumpkin."

Shuffle Demons at Lula LoungeGeorge Koller was up to his usual stage antics. During "The Bass Sacrifice," he took out a back piece of his stand-up bass and somehow wedged part of it in his teeth and used it as a bow of sorts while two drumsticks were wedged in the strings.

Shuffle Demons torontoThat man can play a mean bass, both acoustic and electric. And he's written some mighty fine new songs, including "All About the Hang" and "Way After Midnight." He also sported an impressive King Tut headdress. Meanwhile, Perry White had some soulful solos on his tenor sax during "Perry's Groove" which also featured some intricate drumming by Stich Wynston.

After the first set, I got a little peckish and was happily surprised to find Cheese On Bread on the menu. It was actually goat cheese bruschetta and it was delicious -- as was the Shuffle Demons' rendition of their song.

Shuffle Demons Lula LoungeAfter a break, five guys appeared on the stage wearing Lucha Libre masks and introduced themselves as Los Estrellas Norte. The masks came off by the end of the song and the Shuffle Demons were back with another new song off Cluster Funk called "He's the Drummer," which got the dance floor area in front of the stage packed and moving.

Opening up the night was a talented group of York University students that go by the name of Turbo Street Funk. They played familiar hits from the '70s to the present with their own arrangement, featuring trombone, alto sax, French horn, electric guitar, drums and a sousaphone with a microphone in it.

Shuffle Demons at Lula LoungePart of their set included the theme from Spiderman and Inspector Gadget as well as covers of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams," and Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," among others.

Shuffle Demons at Lula LoungeTurbo Street Funk caught the interest of the Shuffle Demons one day while busking at King and John streets, where they covered "Spadina Bus," although tuba/sousaphone player Trix Sharma admitted to first meeting the Shuffle Demons when he was in grade nine at band camp.

They joined the Shuffle Demons on stage towards the end of the night for an extended rendition of "Spadina Bus."

The huge jam ended up making its way to the front of Lula Lounge and spilled onto the sidewalk and onto Dundas St. W., stopping traffic as they jammed and bopped and clapped and danced together. Indeed, what a cluster funk!

Photos by Roger Cullman Photography.

Posted Toronto

The Pitch: The Shuffle Demons at Lula Lounge

Ben Kaplan | Jul 18, 2012 3:00 PM ET
More from Ben Kaplan | @NP_RunningBen

Richard Underhill leads The Shuffle Demons through a song on a TTC bus, possibly one headed down Spadina.
HandoutRichard Underhill leads The Shuffle Demons through a song on a TTC bus, possibly one headed down Spadina.

Richard Underhill, 51, is the leader of The Shuffle Demons, a Toronto music institution since 1984. Celebrating the release of their ninth record with a massive party on July 26 at Lula Lounge, we asked Underhill to give us four reasons to attend the jam.

1. “In writing an anthem called Spadina Bus, we’ve become one of the groups associated with the Toronto sound,” says Underhill, whose group consists of three saxophonists, bass and drums. “We started out here as a street band and, by now, we’ve performed so much in Toronto’s clubs, we’re pretty recognizably one of the city’s favourite home-brewed groups.”

2. “We bring the music to the people,” he says. “We walk through the crowd, do Congo lines and our drummer is feared nationwide by sound men and tech guys — offstage, he’s perfectly normal, but onstage he’s known to climb scaffolding or run out of the club, bringing the audience with him, and performing in the middle of the street.”

3.Our sound’s unique — it’s like what a rapper would do with two turntables and microphone, except without two turntables and with lots of sax,” Underhill explains.

4.We like to celebrate the everyday things, connect people to each other and make them feel good.” Underhill’s band hails from parts all over, but came together in Toronto to forge their music career. “This isn’t a shoe-gazing band, we’re not moaning about much, we’re trying to celebrate and have a great time.”

z The Shuffle Demons play Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas St. W., on July 26. For more information on the group, visit
Ben Kaplan, National Post

20120705 Spadina Bus-19  

Return to article: The Shuffle Demons Play Spadina Bus on a Spadina Bus



The Shuffle Demons ride the Spadina bus once again

Posted by Derek Flack / July 6, 2012

Spadina Bus TTC Shuffle DemonsThe Spadina bus is back — and so too are the Shuffle Demons, whose eponymous 1986 cult hit has lived on in the hearts of transit geeks and Torontophiles everywhere. Ostensibly just a photo op to draw attention to the fact that track and passenger platform replacement work on the 510 Spadina streetcar route has resulted in the return of bus transit to the street, yesterday's media event serves as a reminder that this is a kinder TTC than we once knew.

Remember when the Commission sent John Martz a cease and desist order over his A Warmer Soupy Butt Anagram Map? During that period, an event like this one likely wouldn't have crossed the minds of TTC brass. I've argued before that I'd like to see the TTC embrace its own legacy and place within the city's history, and it seems like it might be getting the idea (even the last ad campaign played this up).

As for the Shuffle Demons, they were in fine form. Not everyone who boarded the old fishbowl bus — the selection of which was a nice touch — knew who they were or recognized songs from their new album Clusterfunk, but they certainly made a show of it. At one point, passengers were even dancing as the bus chugged down Spadina.

More like this, please.



Shuffle Demons Spadina BusShuffle Demons Spadina BusShuffle Demons Spadina BusShuffle Demons Spadina BusShuffle Demons Spadina BusShuffle Demons Spadina BusShuffle Demons Spadina BusShuffle Demons Spadina BusShuffle Demons Spadina BusShuffle Demons Spadina BusShuffle Demons Spadina BusShuffle Demons Spadina BusShuffle Demons Spadina BusShuffle Demons Spadina BusPhotos by Christian Bobak