Smokin' The Bomhard:

Liquid Soul Plays the Lonesome Pine Special

By Tim Roberts

Diversity reigned at the Kentucky Center for the Arts on Friday, November 19. While the lovely melodies of Puccini's La Boheme filled Robert S. Whitney Hall, funk was aflame inside The Bomhard Theater several yards to the right as the Bank One Lonesome Pine Special series presented Chicago's renowned octet Liquid Soul for the penultimate show of the fall season. With a schedule normally loaded with singer-songwriters, blues acts, Bluegrass bands and Celtic-music performers, this show was one of the few in the series' long history that stretched beyond its perceived boundaries.

Led by saxophonist Mars Williams, formerly with the Psychedelic Furs, Liquid Soul performs in the sub-genre of acid-jazz, a slick blend of funk rhythms, lots of improvisation from the horns (sax, trombone, and trumpet) and the hip-hop elements of a record-scratching DJ and a rapper. Think of it as The Average White Band injected with street cred. The rest of the band that night consisted of trombonist John Janowiak, trumpeter Ron Haynes, Rickie Showalter on bass, Dan Liali on drums, and Tommy Sanchez on guitar. Added to the mix was DJ Ajax (Eddie Mills) and blue-eyed rapper M.C. B. Their vocalist Simone (daughter of singer Nina Simone) was unable to join the band that night due to the recent birth of her child.

There was a feeling of uncertainty at the beginning of the show. Most of the seats had not been filled. M.C. B called attention to the eight-foot-wide dance pit between the stage and the seating. A pair of brave patrons was the first to dance during the opening selection. They were shortly joined by another pair, then two others. By the middle of the show the dance pit was packed and most of the seats were filled. People also milled around the theater with drinks from the portable bar. The band's sound and the informal atmosphere (think about it: when was the last time you danced during a show at the KCA?) made it more of a house party instead of an underwritten performance in Louisville's major cultural center.

Liquid Soul's set contained a blend of selections from both of their CDs, the self-titled release and 1998's Make Some Noise. Horn solos were raunchy and blatty, perfect matches for the steady funk from the rhythm section. DJ Ajax dropped in some strategic scratches and samples. M.C. B, however, tended to stay off to the side, encouraging the audience to dance. But when he rapped, he matched his rhymes to the fast rhythms with chisel-point accuracy.

The band paid its tributes to the core style of its music with their versions of Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" and Miles Davis's "All Blues." Two songs contained memorable solos. Bassist Showalter thwumped and slapped his strings with intensity during "Schizophrenia," where he even plucked a few notes on his instrument's bridge. During the encore selection, "Threadin' the Needle" from Make Some Noise, guitarist Sanchez performed a solo that started in the easy swing style of Wes Montgomery for several bars before changing over to a screaming rock sound and stretching out for several minutes, encouraged by bassist Showalter and the crowd in the dance pit.

After the show, a tired Mars Williams spoke of the amount of touring the band does, all of it revolving around the regular gig they still have every Sunday night at the Double Door in Chicago. The show is done as a freestyle jam that includes other musicians, rappers, even poets. "It's hard to tour the way we've been touring," Williams said of the band, which has been together for six years. It's a schedule that includes performances in several cities across the nation for several days before the band heads back to Chicago for a single night's commitment. His goal is to have the band tour for three weeks, then take two weeks off.

Williams also mentioned that a new CD is forthcoming in March. Here's the Deal will be released on Shanachie Records, the current label home of Duke Robillard. He describes the release as more diverse, containing songs that are both commercial and experimental in styles. "And," he added, "the live cuts are slammin'," referring to the band's practice of adding live tracks to their releases.

"For a band this size to be together this long, there's got to be a commitment to the music," Williams said. The crowd at the Bomhard did more than enjoy themselves during the Liquid Soul performance. They fed off the band's rhythm-fueled power and that commitment to the music, to entertaining.

Even the faces of many in the audience who didn't dance that night were lighted with grins as they left the Moritz A. Bomhard Theater - Louisville's new Palace of Funk.