Live Energy Will Spur Beginnings of Evolution Print
Music - Feature Stories
Tuesday, 15 October 2002 18:00
On its forth studio effort, Evolution, Liquid Soul delivers about what you’d expect: unbelievably tight arrangements, wizardry in soloing, and funky beats to boot. What you might not expect are the newest influences launched into the ever-changing stylistic universe of the Chicago-based septet, including a welcome infusion of world music, R&B-heavy grooves, and a surprising venture into the world of techno. These also happen to be the things that make the album interesting, and they should definitely spice up the band’s live performances. (Liquid Soul will be performing at RIBCO this Saturday with guests The Sucka MCs. The show starts at 10 p.m.) The band has thankfully continued to embrace a wide variety of genres in its music, and this time that open-mindedness really creates some waves.

“Action Jackson” kicks off Evolution, and it falls into that about-what-you’d-expect category in that it features a two-chord base for a catchy riff to coast upon and a couple of cool break downs that have that Thomas Magnum feel – truly a Liquid Soul tried-and-true formula. After the mellow standby “Sun Ra,” I was swept into the ecstasy-laced jelly orb of “La La,” when suddenly I felt like I ought to be at the Liquid Lounge, bobbing my head to DJ Vincent McQueen and ordering a Red Bull and vodka. Kudos to producer Maurice Joshua for this one. The addition of electronic beats and the use of effects on the horns really seem to lead the players into supporting roles, and I enjoy the minimalism.

Next, I found myself enthralled with the styling of guest vocalist Nikki Lynette on “Nina’s in Jail.” She moves effortlessly from impressive, modern hip-hop rhymes on the verses to a smooth, elongated croon on the choruses to hard-edged ranting at the end of the song. And the slinky guitar coupled with the keys and simple horn compositions are excellent bolstering agents. Actually, the combination of arrangement, production, and originality on this one really makes it a pleaser. I’d contend that it’s the standout on the album, primarily because of its pop-sensible structure. The catch is, if you buy the album because of this song, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Mars Williams continues to front the band with his right-on saxophone playing, and he’s also the primary writer. Along with mainstays Ron Haynes on trumpet, Ricky Showalter on bass, Ernie Denov on guitar, and Johnny “Showtime” Janowiak on trombone, the players are steadfast in the production of their parts. Currently MCB is the primary touring MC, and Victor Baker is a new addition on drums.

The guest appearances that give Evolution its flair also turn out to be its worst saboteurs. Guest vocalist and lyricist Christina Sanchez quickly deflates “Mercedes,” which would be a fun little Latin-tinged number, with her The Jets-meet-Samantha Fox subject matter. “Adrenaline is pumping / Put your stick in overdrive / Ooh I’m getting hotter / Make my body come alive / … Let’s get it on in the back of your Mercedes tonight.” What if I drive a Plymouth?

Though that’s definitely the worst of it, there are still portions that make this album seem forced. Despite the fact that the ability of guests Gravity, who co-wrote and rhymes on “Soul,” and James “Squeeze” Taylor, who also rhymes on the song, is definitely up to par, the lack of attention to lyrics all but sinks the piece.

It’s the songs that feel like they come naturally to the band that keep Evolution from being the album on which Liquid Soul tried too hard. After all, Liquid Soul is a band that’s come to rely on its raw energy, and material that stems from that almost can’t be deliberately written. The band manages to sprout a bit of that material toward the end of the album. The two tracks that follow “Soul” make you forget all about a few minor fumbles that occurred earlier on. “Mean Machine” is a meaty salute to ’70s attitude, and “Rage Experiment” is a fast-paced trip reminiscent of any great live performance. They even throw in a recorded live audience cheering at the end. Add to that the sexy sax-saturated “The Lonely Bull,” and you’ve put together a closing trio of tunes that puts some of the shake back in your ass.

Following up a Grammy-nominated album (1999’s Here’s the Deal) is no easy task. But hey, if you almost made it before, who says it’s not right around the bend? On Evolution, Liquid Soul makes an attempt at its next great work, but there’s nothing that spurs this effort to shine as a cohesive album, and the sections that detract from the continuity and, worse, the quality of the work do more damage than they should be allowed.

But the strong pieces are intriguing, and I’d be eager to see them reproduced live. This album serves as a platform from which Liquid Soul can take off with that raw live energy, creating the solid sound and material that are second nature for the band. Liquid Soul continues to experiment, to challenge itself, to grow, and, yes, to evolve. And if great results happen more frequently on a stage than in a studio, what’s so bad about that?