A few years ago, Liquid Soul's main claim to fame was gigging at President Clinton’s second inaugural parade and a birthday bash for Dennis Rodman. The band has grown from Chicago cult favorite to mainstay at jazz festivals nationwide. Liquid Soul’s hyperkinetic blend of jazz and funk is captured to good effect on Here’s the Deal, the group's best album yet. Included are six cuts recorded live at Chicago’s Double Door, plus six done up in the studio.
With its spiraling horn lines, subtle hip-hop touches and relentless grooves, Liquid Soul is a potent party band. I’m not one to routinely plug an album that features two rappers and a DJ on turntables, but this album is hard to dislike. The CD only contains two rap cuts, and each has enough instrumental flair to please most jazz critics. I also dislike most hip-hop, but I find Liquid Soul’s hip-hop touches more fun than annoying. One big difference between this band and other such outfits: the Soulster’s grooves are motored by a fine human drummer in Dan Leali. Second big difference: everybody in this band is a terrific musician.
The instrumentals on Deal are worth the price of the CD. Particularly good is the funked-up version of Miles Davis’ "All Blues." I also dig the groove-heavy dance cuts "Donkey Punch" and "Sweet Pea."
As always, leader Mars Williams (great jazz name) struts his considerable stuff on reeds. Williams blows four different saxophones here, plus wood flute. With Ron Haynes (trumpet, flugelhorn) and John Janowicz (trombone) flanking Williams in the horn section, you’d swear you’re hearing the Brecker Brothers plus one. The remaining five musicians round out a muscular ensemble that’s part Breckers, part Tower of Power, part millennium groove machine. Nina Simone’s daughter lends soulful vocals to two songs.
At times Liquid Soul seems a bit too hipper than thou, but I defy anyone to resist those fluid horns and pulsing beats. If you like jazzed-up party music, Here’s the Deal is indeed a deal.