Liquid Soul, the Grammy-nominated combo that has built its reputation on a compelling mix of jazz, hip-hop, funk and hard-bop, makes its Telarc debut with the release of One-Two Punch.
Pioneers of the acid-jazz movement during their early days in the Chicago club scene of the mid-1990s, Liquid Soul has evolved over the past dozen years into a musical compendium of sounds and styles that starts with jazz and embraces hip-hop, R&B, dance, funk, techno, world, spoken-word and much more. Led by innovative saxophonist/composer Mars Williams, the eight-piece collective has conquered nearly every corner of the U.S. and is looking to turn up the juice in Europe and other parts of the world via their Telarc debut.
Williams co-produced One-Two Punch with Van Christie, whose prior credits run the gamut from Die Warzau to Clay People to National Trust. The session list includes a small army of cutting-edge players, including a few high-profile special guests: turntable virtuoso DJ Logic, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, Widespread Panic keyboardist John "JoJo" Hermann and Smashing Pumpkins drummer Matt Walker. The album also marks the return of Liquid Soul co-founder/guitarist Tommy Klein, and includes the rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Phil Ajjarapu, drummer Tony "Kick Drum" Taylor and beat box maestro David "Boy Elroy" Arredondo.
"This record is a little bit different, " says Williams. "It's still Liquid Soul, but I've taken it further. I'm doing more in the way of manipulating sounds and styles. In addition to that, there are a lot of different voices here besides my own. This record includes several people with whom I like to colaborate. I can introduce a song or an idea, but then I like to give it to somebody and let them interpret it in their own way or add something to it."
The results of the various collaborations on One-Two Punch hit like a hard right to the gut. The first salvo is "Baghdad Cafй, " a track that fuses a relentless Middle Eastern riff to a syncopated rock backbeat. With the addition of Williams' frenetic sax lines—aided by the skilled brass work of trumpeters Doug Corcoran and Hugh Ragin and trombonist Andy Baker—the overall effect is a barely contained energy that threatens to erupt into chaos at any moment.
And that's just the opening track. The followup, "Attaboy, " maximizes Williams' horn atop a persistent house beat and a recurring lyric line from Brian "MCB" Quarles that together sound as though they could (and perhaps should) go on forever. The sensual groove of "Body and Mind" (with an insidious vocal line by Mr. Greenweedz) and the subsequent "Mind Interlude" brings the energy level down, but only temporarily. "Sex God" follows with a driving tempo that briefly segues into an interlude of psychedelia.
Further in, "Stop" does everything but. It's a funk-driven free-for-all featuring rapid-fire vocals by Quarles, who "can't, won't, don't stop." The following track, "Peanut Head, " follows a more midtempo R&B groove, with tightly arranged horns taking a prominent role throughout (check out Williams' solo in the psychedelic-soul interlude nestled within this track).
In keeping with their longstanding tradition of paying homage to past masters of jazz on every album, Williams and company deliver a thumping rendition of Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop, " as well as a cosmic and esoteric version of Albert Ayler's "Angels, " a composition sufficiently mutated and imprinted with the Liquid Soul stamp to warrant the hybrid title "Liquid Angels."
The guest artists make their long-awaited appearance in the home stretch, with JoJo Hermann delivering subtle but distinctive keyboard lines within the midtempo groove of "Boxer's Fracture." But it all finally spills over in "Kong 4, " the throbbing rock-funk closer driven by Matt Walker's metronomic drumming and Vernon Reid's dirty guitar attack. This final piece of melodic/rhythmic/electronic mayhem escalates into a sonic meltdown that is the only way out of the riveting sequence that precedes it.
One-Two Punch is Liquid Soul's fifth recording—and clearly their most ambitious—since their self-titled, mostly-live debut album in 1996. Make Some Noise, their followup effort in 1998, cemented their reputation for delivering the goods in a studio setting as well as from the stage. Since then, they've continued to hammer out infectious grooves with Here's the Deal (2000) and Evolution (2002).
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