Afro-Rock is a ten-track Exotica LP with Dub influences, co-written by British composer, arranger and nightclub bouncer (!) Peter Reno, born Cliff Twemlow (1937–1993), and one dubious gestalt named Luis Vecchio who could or could not be simply another moniker of Twemlow, as this is one of only a few records to ever officially feature his involvement.


Released on the – currently restructured at time of writing this review – De Wolfe Music label in 1971, the opalescent, wildly slick aura of the album is diminished by various saddening factors about which I could ramble and write several additional paragraphs; my forthcoming reviews of records released on the label will offer additional pieces from the puzzle. For now, there are two major things to say about Afro-Rock: firstly, its endemic style is awe-inspiring. Brass infusions, bongo and conga percussion, flute tones, organ goodness and Funk guitars grace the ten unique movements, rhythm shifts and drum solos included. Decidedly funky, adamantly Rock-infested, the album is a blast. But here comes the letdown that people in the know already sensed when I mentioned the label, as Afro-Rock is “only” library music, “just” another entry among thousands in the De Wolfe Music back catalog, featuring a few of over 2,000 compositions Cliff Twemlow aka Peter Reno wrote during his life. This even puts Martin Denny’s productive release cycle to shambles!


So since this is library music, why do I even think of coming up with an in-depth review? Because there are not that many better things to do. Okay, I exaggerate. But the music of Peter Reno and other library music luminaries is worth revisiting, for these gentlemen produced catchy compositions that are hopelessly belittled, but actually shiny, only to be spoiled by the collective reception of music lovers. It comes down to this: Afro-Rock makes a mockery of library music. It reduces its fugacious-ephemeral state to absurdity! This is a record without any compromises, strikingly exotic via its percussion layers and wild enough to impress today’s listeners who do not want to be pestered with lachrymose string washes, the latter of which incidentally form an important part in Peter Reno’s arrangements. Here, however, Reno and/or Vecchio replace the dreamy strings he is primarily known for in the 60’s with dirty saxes and an overall rusty, energetic recording technique. Metallic clangs, coruscating cymbals, screeching guitars, this one is for the Mandingo crowd and even precedes the infamous collective of session musicians produced by Geoff Love and Norman Newell by a few months. It deserves a more meticulous look. One which has not been provided heretofore. Or ever since, unfortunately.


Earthbound or lost in space? The staccato organ blebs of the opener Megaton whirl rotatorily through the air, further warmed by megalomaniac brass sections that could have spun off a Jamaican Dub record. A city-strolling dirty downbeat structure with electric bass guitars, bongo gro(o)ves and iridescently effervescent organ shards rounds off the magnanimous turmoil. This is so unlike the back catalog of De Wolfe Music; it is as if a smurgy filter is superimposed. A funky critter par excellence, rooted in Reggae, rounded off with Exotica. The follow-up Renegade slows the tempo down even more and unleashes a stupefying quasi-euphony of the horn helixes which are traversed by the occasional dissonance that is so archetypical for the Reggae genre and its Afro-Rock next of kin. The bubbling bongo blisters are much more upfront, the lead melody on a dirty saxophone grafts its tones into the sleazy coolness. The melodies are hard to hum, it’s all about the textures, pops!


While the tachycardia-suggesting Façade revs up the tempo, features dun-shadowy organ runlets and mean-spirited bass melodies that would suit every Bond villain throughout this car chase-compatible mayhem, it is the following Chabati which proves to be the first tune written by the ominous Luis Vecchio, which is undoubtedly the best tune of side A due to its 6/8 rhythm, the downright sun-soaked atmosphere and the bucolic brass entanglements. The organ quavers and shivers along to the superbly catchy bongo-backed melody. The long-winded finale comes in the shape of Green Hell, a critter of almost seven effin’ minutes supercharged with a moist-ligneous bass guitar goodness, fiery organs and their car horn counterparts, a shrapnel of bongos and that laissez-faire attitude of the horns. Rhythm shifts, short trips into purgatory and Haitian flutes enchant this long-form piece and break the chain of the library music label. This is not library music. This must not be library music. This tune features complexions and complexities which would even make Herbie Hancock partially proud. A classic that was never meant to be!


Side B opens with Luis Vecchio’s Boss, a brute that bursts at the seams due to the thermal heat of the midday sun. Gleaming brass coils and a surprisingly jazzy eclecticism drive the piece ever-further, with the frizzling-plinking percussion layers and super-screeching wah-wah guitars ameliorating the boiling asphalt further. Watch out for the bongo and conga intermission and the whirling flute! Vecchio’s Nsambei follows, a witches’ brew full of chaparral saxes, cosmic chord cacophonies on the organ and astonishingly cool rhythm shifts which shake the listener violently, letting him or her enjoy the voodoo allusions of the nocturnal-festive atmosphere. There’s only one rule: shifting ever, peaking never. Reno’s Waboco meanwhile sports the rockiest stereotypes loaded with street worker riffs, paroxysmal organs and burping classic drum kits, whereas the final two tunes drive the hidden gem further into, er, gem lands: Cult features a great Surf Rock aorta with a constant repetition of those typical billow motifs, all the while the flute unites with the trumpet, Disco guitar globs and ominous organs, whereas the amicable finale Ngoma-Ku is keen on the bongo side and merges the sunscape of Exotica with Dub trumpets and Rock serpentines, functioning as the ultimate synergetic artifact. Light transmutes into music.


That there are people out there who know and heard Vecchio’s Afro-Rock is very likely, even though it was only available on vinyl (wait for the surprise coming up in a few moments!). This premonition, no matter how atavistic it seems at first, carries a very important thought: once you hear Afro-Rock, chances are that you fall in love with it. This is an album every producer would be proud to have in his discography, and here comes the problem in the shape of library music. Believe it or not, but this is only one monolith out of ten thousands of related works in the tombs of De Wolfe Music. In addition, Cliff Twemlow aka Peter Reno has written thousands of compositions and has simultaneously worked on dozens of compositions at least, all of them sporting various styles and timbres. A listener’s romantic notion of a composer who deeply cares about his works and crafts every single note during lonely summer nights, with the full moon illumining pen, paper and sheet music, well, this very notion is hopelessly shattered by the rules of library music.


But it is exactly here where Afro-Rock comes into play! Its ten tracks are a manifesto of various styles. I can honestly say that the album title could have been called Afro-Dub or better still, Afro-Exotica, and I would not have raised a brow. All of these genres are enmeshed in this record. Concrete jungles, voodoo coppices and sunset valleys are happily united. The centerpieces Green Hell and Ngoma-Ku are the revelatory nuclei of excellence here, but the other tracks are tumbling and shuttling as well, showing their polyhedron sides. The percussion is strikingly exotic and always audible, Pagan flute tones are no alienating ingredients for genre fans either, and the rustic-raucous brass waves are sunny, alkaline or portentous, depending on the needed mood. Afro-Rock probably is a stellar album in a parallel universe, but its surroundings and the lack of reissues prevent it from shining today, right now, in this very moment. Fans of Mandingo, Sabu Martinez, Chaino and Don Ralke’s The Savage And The Sensuous Bongos (1960) or the Roger Roger Ensemble’s similar Afro, Spooky (1972), take note.


Further listening: 


Exotica Review 270: Vecchio – Afro-Rock (1971). Originally published on Oct. 12, 2013 at