A loose collective of musicians revolving around saxophonist Mars Williams, Chicago’s Liquid Soul is known as a purveyor of “acid jazz,” a hybrid of hard bop, free jazz, jazz fusion with hip-hop, R&B, and funk. The group was formed in 1993 by Williams and deejay Jesse De La Pena, two of several musicians who performed together regularly at the Elbo Room in Chicago. The group began playing regular Sunday night performances at the club, eventually developing a large and loyal following that required them to seek a larger venue. They eventually moved their Sunday night sessions to Double Door, a club in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago, where they honed their eclectic mixture of jazz and dance music. “You can look at our resume and see all the different styles,” Williams told Paul Tolme of the Associated Press. “Liquid Soul is perfect for incorporating these many sounds. It’s a melting pot of sounds, a liquidy mix.”
The group’s live performances and recordings earned them a successful headlining concert at the 1997 Newport Jazz Festival, which helped legitimize acid jazz. “Jazz is becoming fun again. We like to say we’re bringing it back to the dance floor, where it was in the ’40s and ’50s when it was America’s pop music,” Williams told Tolme in a 1997 interview. “Somewhere
Members include Eddie Acid (born Eddie Mills, also known as Miles Long; joined group, 1997), turntables; Ajax, turntables; Victor Baker (joined group, 2001), drums; Jesse De La Pena (left group, mid-1990s), turntables; Ernie Denov, guitar; Mr. Greenweedz (born Marcel A. Wilkes), emcee; Ron Haynes, trumpet, flugelhorn; Ricky Showalter, bass; Johnny Showtime (born John Janowiak; joined group, 1996), trombone; Mars Williams, saxophone.
Group formed in Chicago, IL, 1993; established Sunday night residency at Chicago music club Double Door, released album, Make Some Noise, 1996; performed at re-election inauguration of President Bill Clinton, 1996; headlined first acid-jazz event at Newport Jazz Festival, 1997; released Grammy Award-nominated album Here’s the Deal, 2000; released Evolution, 2002.
Addresses: Record company—Shanachie Records, 37 East Clinton St., Newton, NJ 07860, phone: (973) 579-7763, fax: (973) 579-7083, website: http://www.shanachie.com. Website—Liquid Soul Official Website: http://www.liquidsoul.com.
along the line it got really snobby.” The group’s accessibility and relentless performing schedule also earned them a request to play at the second inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1996.
The official leader of the group, Williams studied music with Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell. Before forming Liquid Soul, he pursued a dual career in the 1980s as a performer of avant garde jazz and New Wave pop music. He performed with Massacre, a band that featured avant garde jazz bassist Bill Laswell and guitarist Fred Frith; the Waitresses; the Psychedelic Furs; Ministry; Billy Idol; Power Station; and Billy Squier. Liquid Soul’s website quotes composer John Zorn’s assessment of Williams’ talent: “One of the true saxophone players—someone who takes pleasure in the sheer act of blowing the horn. This tremendous enthusiasm is an essential part of his sound, and it comes through each note every time he plays. Whatever the situation, Mars plays exciting music. In many ways he has succeeded in redefining what versatility means to the modern saxophone player.” While playing nearly 200 live performances a year with Liquid Soul, Williams also continued to record and perform with such jazz groups as the NRG Ensemble, Witches & Devils, Slam, and X Mars X.
Trumpet and flugelhorn player Ron Haynes was also a consistent member of the group from the beginning. A former student of legendary jazz trumpet player Donald Byrd, with whom he studied at North Carolina State University, Haynes performed with such acts as world-beat band Dharma 8 and funk band the Ohio Players. He also was horn section leader for the Mac Men group, which was formed to accompany Bernie Mac on the Chicago comedian’s Home Box Office (HBO) television special. In addition, Haynes arranged music and performed with acts as diverse as Chaka Khan, George Duke, Brian McKnight, Sugar Blue, and Sheila E.
Bass player Ricky Showalter earned a reputation as a virtuoso musician while playing with a variety of Chicago rock and jazz bands as well as deejays. He also contributed bass tracks to advertising music jingles. Johnny Showtime, the stage name of John Janowiak, joined Liquid Soul in 1996. A trombone player, he also pursued a career as music journalist who has published in Down Beat, Music Inc., and Up Beat Daily. Guitarist Ernie Denov is the son of Chicago Symphony Orchestra percussionist Sam Denov. He contributed his guitar playing to recordings and live performances by Terry Callier, Airto Moriera, Dave Valentin, Sandra Bernhardt, Howard Levy, and others, as well as forming and leading the Latin jazz group Chevere and progressive rock-jazz fusiongroup Bad Dog. Drummer Victor Baker joined the group as a permanent member in 2001, after gaining acclaim in 2000 as the winner of the national Guitar Center Drumoff competition.
Liquid Soul boasts formidable turntable talents as well. The band’s first turntable master, De La Pena, was later replaced by Ajax, who has subsequently appeared on all of Liquid Soul’s recordings. For live performances, Ajax was later replaced with deejay Eddie Mills, who has also used the names Eddie Acid and Miles Long. Born in Canada of Russian and Ghanian parentage, Mills began substituting for Ajax in 1997, and continued to tour with the group afterwards. Emcee Mr. Greenweedz (born Marcel A. Wilkes) was a vocalist for the Chicago hip-hop group Mr. Natural, who had a hit song “Cashin’ the Checks.” Mr. Greenweedz also pursues a dual career as a vocalist for the group the Family Tree. In addition to its members, Liquid Soul also works frequently with guests, including emcee MCB and vocalist Simone, daughter of Nina Simone and star of the musicals The Lion King and Aida and the National Company of the musical Rent.
From the moment that the group was formed, Liquid Soul has been categorized as acid jazz, a label that Williams refutes. “I like to say we go beyond acid jazz,” Williams told Tolme. “We’ll take jazz standards and put them to a hip-hop beat. We’ll do a Latin tune or something with a Mideast flavor to it.” The group’s self-titled first recording, released in 1996, included cover versions of John Coltrane’s “Equinox,” Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” and Miles Davis’s “Freddie the Freeloader.” Recorded live at the Elbo Room, Liquid Soul prompted Down Beat critic Larry Birnbaum to note that the album combined “energy with polished technique and split-second precision,” and that “[t]his Chicago septet sweep the mold and mildew out of jazz-funk and breathes it back to glorious life.” Birnbaum also commended the recording for the band’s “blowing hot and heavy skin-tight ensemble passages and wailing every solo for all its worth… The album makes a powerful case for the viability of jazz as contemporary dance music.”
The band’s second release, Make Some Noise, included both live and studio recordings. While asserting that the other groups such as Parliament/Funkadelic and Fishbone achieved better results from similar musical approaches, Down Beat critic Frank-John Hadley conceded that “Liquid Soul sure knows how to fuel a helluva good time.” The album is notable for its inclusion of the song “I Want You to Want Me,” which is sung by Nordic singer Trine Rein. The band’s first release for Shanachie Records, Here’s the Deal, also features live and studio recordings, and includes a cover of Davis’s “All Blues,” which turns into a funk reworking of the classic jazz composition. The album netted the group a Grammy Award nomination. For the band’s 2002 release, Evolution, Williams enlisted producer Maurice Joshua, who had worked previously with Destiny’s Child and ’N Sync.
After the release of Evolution, Williams confided to writer Anna Maria Basquez of the Coloradoan that the band’s size was becoming such a financial burden due to the number of musicians in Liquid Soul and the limited commercial appeal of the band that he was considering disbanding them. On a more positive note, however, he mapped out his view of the band’s future: “It’s about always reaching and searching, which isn’t really happening a lot in the jazz community.” He also assessed the status of contemporary jazz for Basquez: “Today, it’s more about recreation instead of creation. That’s the more commercialized version of jazz, people playing jazz standards and playing them over and over and over again. There are other jazz communities that are called jazz but more improvised, where people still are searching.” Williams noted that Chicago is the city that musicians look at as a haven for creative jazz. “It’s a pretty big scene here—a lot of collaborations with European artists in Chicago. The good and healthy things don’t get the attention they deserve.”
Liquid Soul, Ark21, 1996.
Make Some Noise, Ark21, 1998.
Here’s the Deal, Shanachie, 2000.
Evolution, Shanachie, 2002.
Down Beat, February 1996, p. 50; August 1998, p. 87; August 2000, p. 71.
“Acid Jazz Grows, Gains Respect,” Associated Press, http://www.cmd.uu.se/AcidJazz/Backup/1997-Aug/0334.html (January 31, 2003).
“Beyond Acid Jazz: An Interview with Liquid Soul’s Mars Williams,” Vermont Review,http://members.tripod.com/vermontreview/lnterviews/liquidsoul.htm (January 31, 2003).
“Jazzy Liquid Soul to Perform at Aggie,” Coloradoan, http://www.coloradoan.com/entertainment/stories/20030109/entertainment/739443.html (January 31, 2003)
“Liquid Soul,” Skyline Online, http://www.skylineonline.com/liquidsould.shtml (January 31, 2003).
Liquid Soul Official Website, http://www.liquidsoul.com (January 31, 2003).
“Liquid Soul Smokes Out the Crowd,” Daily University of Washington,http://archives.thedaily.Washington.edu/1998/062498/soul.6.23.html (January 31, 2003).
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