Free Radicals


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The Rising Tide Sinks All (1998), 7/10
Our Lady of Eternal Sunny Delights (2000), 7/10
Aerial Bombardment (2004), 6.5/10
The Freedom Fence (2012), 6.5/10
Freedom of Movement (2015), 5/10
Outside the Comfort Zone (2017), 6/10
White Power Outage Vol. 1 (2020), 5/10
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Free Radicals, formed in Houston (Texas) by drummer Nick Cooper, debuted with the 29 brief aphorisms of The Rising Tide Sinks All (1998), an eclectic stew of hybrid stylistic experiments: funk jams with melodic horns fanfares (The School of the Americas), funk-soul ballads (Lights Down), rap (That Ain't No Lamb), the acid-reggae jam The Capital Punishment Capital, the seven-minute melancholy jam Elegy for Ken Saro-Wiwa and especially populist free jazz for street band a` la Lol Coxhill (The Home of Easy Credit with a western-movie guitar solo, the accordion-driven The Occupation with delirious spoken-word).

Of the 31 pieces on Our Lady of Eternal Sunny Delights (2000) about 20 are mere fragments. The album is more properly a jazz album. It interprets through the lenses of a jazz bombo the revolutionary march of Wave, the feverish Caribbean dance of Ocho, the anthemic polka La Celestina the reggae-fied polka Mr PC, the African chant Nyamazela Kwendini, the Brazilian dance Favela and the dissonant raga Ganga Kit Laharen. It includes ebullient prog-rock (One Pow to End It), jovial fanfares (Circle-O), and cinematic rides (Dance of the Continents), as well as brainy abstract free-jazz (In Between the Seasons, Bombs Burst Bright on the Lawn, Irrational Exuberance).

The 80-minute 32-song Aerial Bombardment (2004) is even more eclectic, absorbing gamelan (Afterlife), ska (Trainyard Ska), dub (Quilombo Dub), Brazilian carnival (All Alien All Nude All the Time), old-time swing (Eyebrows) and many other genres while metabolizing the comic funk-rock of R2 Runs the Voodoo Down and the stoned soul of Reincarnation. The ensemble includes: Tom Sutherland (keyboards), Nick Cooper (the main drummer but also on vibes, clavinet and synth), Harry Sheppard (vibes), Joseph Jackson (vibes), Mark Sound (keyboards, bass, guitar), Christine Wu (violin), Pete Sullivan (baritone sax), Marcos Melchor (sax), Jimmy Dupuy (sax), Stuart Smith (guitar), Chris Anderson (guitar), Lucas Gorham (bass), Matt Kelly (organ), Subhendu Chakraborty (tablas), Andra Haviland (bass clarinet), Theo Bijarro (double bass, tuba), Nadja Burns (harp), Jon Durbin (trumpet), Jason Jackson (alto sax), Jeff Robinson (bassoon), Henry Darragh (trombone), Ian Varley (electric piano), Aaron Hermes (sampler), a dozen percussionists, three turntablist (Felix Thedoublehelix, Joseph Corrales, Chicken George) and multiple rappers, singers and poets.

The key players on The Freedom Fence (2012), a concept against the anti-immigration hysteria sweeping the USA (prescient of what will happen in 2016 with the xenophobic campaign of Donald Trump), are: baritone saxophonist Pete Sullivan, bassist Theo Bijarro, trumpeter Doug Falk, guitarist Al Bear, saxophonist Jason Jackson, drummer Nick Cooper (also the producer) and percussionist Chris Howard. Besides the usual tastes of different musical cultures, from blues (Ben Taub Blues) to reggae (No Money No Nice), the band conceives creative agit-prop hybrids like the reggae-rap No State Solution, the revolutionary salsa Mosaico Zapatista I and the Mardi Gras fanfare Build Levees Not Walls. There are hints of circus music in Exit Al Bear Pursued by a Pig and Mosh Hashanah. The album contains two of their most infectious numbers ever, the catchy rhumba Song for Riley (with a splendid accordion solo by Roberto Rodriguez III) and the ghostly reggae If There's Still Hope.

Freedom of Movement (2015) offers more conventional Caribbean jazz like Coyote and percussive fests like 146 Exonerees.

The 23-song Outside the Comfort Zone (2017) returned to old-time feverish and swinging dances (Carry Me to My Grave), circus polkas (Doomsday Clock), clownish interludes (the epileptic Manifest Dust Bunny, the monstruous Audacity of Drones, the somnolent reggae Space Witch), and revolutionary party music (Chicha Revolucion), next to the usual doses of Caribbean jazz, whether ebullient (Screaming) or melodic (The Legals Have a Lunch). The best melody is perhaps the one in Beyond Vietnam over a sinister groove that evokes spy-thriller soundtracks. While the quality is generally better than on the previous album, there are quite a few redundant "songs".

White Power Outage Vol. 1 (2020), five years in the making, is a concept against Donald Trump-era white supremacy, a set of 23 raps by different rappers with different arrangements.

At one point or another the group has also included Matt Serice (trumpet), Tom VandenBoom (trombone), Aaron Varnell (tenor saxophone), Jacob Breier (bass), etc.

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