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Mars Williams continues the experiment with Liquid Soul

Joel Stonington
Chicago acid-jazz band Liquid Soul performs tonight at the Belly Up. (Courtesy Liquid Soul)
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If you’re talking funk, if you’re talking acid jazz, and the groove from Chicago, then Mars Williams inevitably comes up. He’s one of the pioneers of a sound that has hybridized jazz and hip-hop with all sorts of other influences, so that today, it has taken on a life and soul of its own. Williams, whose band Liquid Soul plays the Belly Up tonight, feels the need to stay on top creatively, to recognize successes and move onward into new territory. The first question that needs to be asked of him when interviewing is: What crazy new thing are you up to this time?The thing that has changed about the band since the last time he came here is a new band member. “I’ve got this guy Dave Redondo that does beat boxing,” said Williams. “The use of a DJ live has kind of become second nature. I thought, ‘What can I do to get more of that hip-hop element?’ It’s kind of like two MCs going at the same time. On this trip we wanted to do something different. You’ve got to hear it to know what I’m talking about. It really works.”Williams said that he found out about Redondo when he was in Colorado last time, at a gig in Crested Butte. “He was in one of the bands that opened for us. I went and sat in for them; he came up and it blew my mind. If I hear something I think I could use, then I go for it and try it. You always have to experiment.”Indeed. One of Williams’ latest experiments has been as far-reaching as a full-blown circus show done to his own compositions.

In 2004, Mars brought the Soul Sonic Circus to the Moers Jazz Festival in Germany. There were 13 musicians, including DJ Logic, three drummers and others, along with eight circus performers.That performance was more freeform. This March, Williams is bringing the circus to Chicago with 14 shows in 10 days, featuring stronger composition and more performers.”It’s not Ringling Brothers,” he said. “It’s More of a Cirque du Soleil thing but even beyond that. We’ll have aerial circus performers, juggling, tumblers. It’s just starting to get really recognized. The more we do it the more people see it and it’s really entertaining.”Mars Williams has been keeping Liquid Soul on the edge of the experimental from 1994, when the band first began with a weekly gig at Chicago’s Elbo Room. In 2000, they earned a Grammy nomination for “Here’s the Deal,” opened shows for Sting, and played at the Newport Jazz Festival. In 2002, however, Williams was having trouble getting bandmates to practice and wanted significantly more out of their album, so he decided to dismantle the band.

After a year of playing with X Mars X, a rock-jazz band; a trio with DJ Logic and bassist Rob Wasserman; and a solo sax gig; he reassembled Liquid Soul for some of the projects he was presenting at the Moers Festival. A new Liquid Soul, led by a rejuvenated Williams, features Redondo, trumpeter Joe Miller, DJ Eddie Mills, drummer Tony “Kick Drum” Taylor, guitarist Tommy Klein, and long-standing MC Mr. Greenweed.The band has also just finished a new record to be released on Telarc in May. “We just finished it the day before we left on this tour,” said Williams. “It was probably mastered yesterday.”Typically, for the level of experimentation and funkiness, the new album will feature a wealth of interesting guests including DJ Logic, Vernon Reed from In Living Color, Garbage, and JoJo Hermann from Widespread Panic, among others.

“I think it’s a step forward,” he said. “You can see progression in the band. You still get the same vibe of Liquid Soul. Still layering different styles on top of each other, the funk groove. It has a little more of a hard edge. A lot more electronics mixed with the horns and the live elements, loops beats, synthesizers. I kind of wanted to do something different.”As if that’s a surprise. He said the show will be their taking it up a notch, as they’re always trying to do. “The shows have been great,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy. Sometimes the whole band freestyles, where you start with beat-boxing, then everyone joins in and before you know it, you have this spontaneous tune. We still play our songs that people know and want to hear, but sometimes I’ll point to someone and just tell them to start. Last night we did six of them – and the crowd was really into it.”He said he likes coming to Aspen to play, and enjoys getting out on the hill for a bit before the show. “Know anyone that can hook me up with a ticket?” he asked. “We love playing at Belly Up, the Aspen crowd feels like family.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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