The Shuffle Demons Streetniks
In the mid to late eighties popular jazz was traveling through some pretty murky waters. In the eyes of many young people, jazz had taken on the stodgy air that afflicts Baroque, Classical and Romantic era music. Many no longer saw jazz as music of the people, but instead music of pompous intellectuals. With many of the genre's best performers taking on the guise of adult contemporary smooth layered in drum machines and synths, it was damn scary.
While most people were convinced that comatose grooves such as Kenny G's "Songbird" passed for great jazz, a force had emerged. Five garishly dressed -pajamas?- young men resembling fifties-era beatniks laid out great chops while singing about a Toronto bus run, "Spadina Bus". Although they looked goofy and sang songs such as "Get out of My House, Roach" and "The Puker," they were amazing players who translated their love of jazz into some of the most original music of the eighties.
With their debut Streetniks
, Toronto's The Shuffle Demons changed the way a whole new generation looked at jazz, in much the same way DJ Spooky has in the nineties. Led by Mike Murley (now with Metalwood), Rich Underhill and Dave Parker on saxophones, the group was rounded out with Stich Wynston on percussion and Jim Vivian on bass. The Demons built a huge following on the street corners of Toronto, leading to both a video of "Spadina Bus" and the release of the independent Streetniks
. They mixed a quirky groove with fun rap style lyrics (which they called bop rap), blazing solos and a sound that remained every bit true to the pioneers of be-bop.
Although aimed at a jazz audience, Streetniks
gathered a new group of listeners through their hipster/clown style. With the thumping bass opening of "Spadina Bus," which recalls layouts by both Mingus and Carter, followed by a downbeat that leads into a horn chop that etches itself into your brain. It is hard to imagine even today that serious playing like this will lead to lyrics such as "I reached deep down in my pocket to try and find some coin/ But much to chagrin all I found was my groin". Even though Dizzy was certainly the clown prince of bop, he would never have spilled such words before an audience.
But the proof is in the music. The solo on second single "Get Out of My house, Roach" is brilliant: a slap in the face chunk of be and free-bop that send shivers down one's spine. But what makes this bizarre is that it became a hit single on MuchMusic's video singles chart! The idea that people who were listening to synthetic divas such as Madonna would groove to skillfully played jazz with ripping free solos is still hard to imagine. Opening with squeaks and squeals that owe influence far more to Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler than the be-bop pioneers. A track every bit different as possible from "Spinda Bus" proved to all critics that the Demons had more depth than being a novelty act.
Although they would never reach the success of Streekniks
again, the Demons' other records held a tightly glued cult following that still exists. Even today their mixture of contemporary styles with bop is still fresh. The ideas and originality laid out on Streetniks
still lie unmatched seventeen years later.