CD REVIEW - Afroskull: To Obscurity and Beyond
Remember the first time you heard the debut album from the Chicago Transit Authority? Or King Crimson's Red? How about Hot Rats or The Grand Wazoo from Frank Zappa? Well, strap yourself in and get ready for a ride that will probably move you just like the first time you heard those gems. Afroskull is a New York City based funk/rock/jazz combo (originally from New Orleans), and To Obscurity and Beyond is the follow-up to their debut Monster for the Masses, which was originally released in 2000. These guys, a lean, mean rock machine with a funked up horn section, can really deliver the goods, and from start to finish this CD is a wild ride that will leave you breathless.
Most of the songs here are instrumental, save for two vocal pieces, "Everything" and "Waste Management", the latter which by the way is a kickin' funk-rock-jazz number that could easily be the forgotten offspring of Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Funkadelic. Otherwise, tracks such as "Spyplane", "Me & My TV", "Dance of the Wild Koba", and "The Curse" sound like Chicago from the late 60's/early 70's if Lamm & Cetera kept their mouths shut and let the horn section soar and Terry Kath wail on the guitar. By the way, the cat here who 'wails' on the guitar is none other than Joe Scatassa, and he is joined by drummer Jason Isaac, keyboard player/singer Matt Iselin, bassist Dan Asher, percussion player Seth Moutal, and the horn section of Ronnie Cuber (from Mingus Big Band & Frank Zappa) on sax & clarinet, Jeff Pierce on trumpet, Justin Flynn on tenor sax, Rafi Malkiel on trombone, Mark Teofilo on orchestral percussion, plus a few guest vocalists.
The combination of crunchy guitar riffs, tight rhythms, and funky horns are a pleasure to listen to, especially on the energetic "Zero Hour", which also has some neat clavinet work from Isellin that screams late 70's Jan Hammer or George Duke. Closing number "Escape From Rome" is a raucous collection of free-jazz, avant-garde, and blues rock, Scatassa delivering a scorching guitar solo amidst plenty of frantic rhythms and a beefy horn arrangement. It's a wild end to an equally wild & groovy CD.
Too bad it seems to take Afroskull so long between releases, as I could easily listen to this kind of stuff on a regular basis. If you like any of the bands mentioned above, and are intrigued by what you've read here, then I urge you to go out and get a hold of this CD at all costs. You won't be disappointed!
- Pete Pardo
Afroskull Band Bio
Afroskull is greasy persuasion and bad gris-gris. A New York City funk/rock collective by way of New Orleans, the ‘Skull is a sonic gumbo that is one part Funkadelic and one part Black Sabbath with generous helpings of Zappaesque runs and jazzoid horns. The interplay of their heady musicianship and fat bottomed grooves helps to keep les bon temps rouler all night long.
Born of saintly happenstance and house party jam sessions in The Big Easy, Afroskull has been intent on setting about the musical canvas with broad strokes and a menacing palette for more then a decade. Indulging in the sweet cross pollination of musical genres, they have created a hybrid sound they can call their very own. Taking their name from the perceived halo, that well worn LP fade, which framed the shrouded skull on the back cover of “Steppenwolf Live,” the band, in one word conceived a moniker that spoke to the heavy boogies they were cranking out on a regular basis.
Their early musical endeavors and growing reputation in and around New Orleans led the band; Joe Scatassa (guitar), Bill Richards (bass), Matt Barone (keyboards), Jason Isaac (drums) and a cadre of horn players, into the studio to cut their first album. Monster for the Masses, released in 2000, was received to critical praise. Although commercial success proved more elusive, the band’s stature, backed by their solid studio effort and high-powered shows, continued to grow even as they dealt with a multitude of changes.
Following band member departures, a brief hiatus, and a move back home to New York, Joe and Jason reconstituted Afroskull. With The Big Apple their backdrop and joined by Matt Iselin (keyboards), Dan Asher (bass) and Seth Moutal (percussion) the band was born anew, but with that same genre eschewing bend. Their live shows, a laboratory for their shifting provocative sound, were further enhanced by the solidification of the “Horns of Doom.”
Jeff Pierce (trumpet), Justin Flynn (tenor sax) and Rafi Malkiel (trombone) emerged from a rotating cast of horn players equipped with an individual swagger but firmly committed to the group dynamic. Tempted by their small yet loyal following and convinced by Joe’s intricate spiraling compositions Afroskull once again made for the studio.
The result, To Obscurity and Beyond, their first album in nine years, is a tempestuous marriage of rock, funk and jazz. Dripping with ecstatic elaborate arrangements, Joe Scatassa’s production and original compositions are hell bent on keeping you shaking your ass and banging your head. Joined by Ronnie Cuber (baritone sax, bass clarinet), of Mingus Big Band and Frank Zappa fame, the lush brass orchestrations compliment and combat the underlying full throttle gonzo spunk. Punctuated by two spitfire vocal tracks, the mostly instrumental offering stampedes, but never tramples. To Obscurity and Beyond further separates Afroskull from the majority of their peers as it marks the return of their uniquely fierce and unrelenting voice to the scene.