Free Radicals - Outside The Comfort Zone

Kev Rowland, Free Radicals - Outside The Comfort Zone

Free Radicals describe their musical genre as Jazz, Funk, Ska, Reggae, Salsa, Afrobeat, Klezmer, Samba, New Orleans, Dub, Improv and Ethiopian and it is certainly a melting pot like none other I have come across. While jazz is very much a starting point, they describe themselves as a Horn-Heavy HTX (Houston, Texas) Dance Band, and there is a groove prevalent throughout the songs, even though the genre and style well may change. The current line-up is Jason Jackson (alto sax), Aaron Varnell (tenor sax), Tom VandenBoom (trombone), Matt Serice (trumpet, keyboards), Nick Cooper (drums and percussion), Al Bear (guitar), Jacob Breier (bass) and Nick Gonzalez (sousaphone). Although this is an instrumental album, the band are obviously quite politically active and the album artwork relates to the opening song, “The Legals Have A Lunch”. It depicts a family of descendants of European immigrants in a diner, eating a feast and looking at their phones, oblivious to the apartheid system right outside.

The album mixes both genres and recording styles, with improvised numbers from live shows sometimes brought in and worked into something new, while other songs are presented almost fully written and defined from the beginning. The result is something that in many ways feels quite chaotic in that the listener is never quite sure what to expect from one song to the next, and given that this 68-minute-long album contains 23 of them, that can be quite draining. But, as one gets further into the crazy world of Free Radicals there is the realisation that here is quite a special band, with a very special album. Apparently, they are thirteen time winners of "Best Jazz" in the Houston Press Music Awards, and on hearing this I’m not surprised. Well worth further investigation.

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