The inability of anyone to come up with a viable definition of "acid jazz" puts Chicago's Liquid Soul in an enviable position. The band supplies enough of the idiom's alleged hallmarks--from steel-mesh horn ensembles to hip-hop vocals to blue-eyed funk to an artful DJ--to satisfy its professed aficionados. Then Mars Williams, the indefatigable Chicago reedman and Liquid Soul's driving force, binds up the package with lessons about economy and organization learned from mainstream and free jazz. As a result, Liquid Soul has a modern spark but also a sense of roots that lifts it above most competitors. The aptly named brand-new album, Make Some Noise (Ark 21), takes a giant step forward from the group's 1996 debut, Liquid Soul, purifying the music's disparate elements and then, paradoxically, using them to construct a more tightly integrated hybrid. For instance, the album features more in the way of solid jazz, due in large part to Ron Haynes's gut-grabbing trumpet solos (which suggest Lee Morgan's early-70s stab at fusion); but there's also more in the way of hip-hop, from rapper Dirty MF. So when the band takes on the anarchic bebop ditty "Salt Peanuts," it can include a sample of composer Charlie Parker's voice, a hardscrabble scat solo by guest Kurt Elling, and a funk-groove vocal by MF, turning the old tune into an episodic fantasy. And Make Some Noise doesn't even feature Liquid Soul's newest member, vocalist Simone. The daughter of the legendary Nina Simone, she came to Chicago in the cast of Rent, began sitting in at Liquid Soul's Sunday night Double Door sets, and then decided to join the band full-time--providing the extra charisma needed for the climb to pop stardom. Saturday, 10 PM, Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison; 773-327-1662. Sunday, 11 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-3160. There's also a free in-store Sunday at 2 PM at Borders Books & Music, 830 N. Michigan; 312-573-0564. Wednesday, 11 PM, Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln; 773-549-5549. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Scot Overholser.