Free Radicals’ “Outside the Comfort Zone” redefines serious jazz

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Social justice-minded jazz ska band, Free Radicals, continue their mission of political commentary through music on “Outside the Comfort Zone.”

Free Radicals: The band and the message

On “Outside the Comfort Zone,” Free Radicals continue to call out the political misdeeds of the United States.

This is not the first time the Houston-based ensemble has taken on the subject. Since 1998, the group has proven its ability to predict military and political missteps before they happen. Developments such as the war in Iraq, and the building of wall between the United States and Mexico, have all been predicted by the band at least four years before they happen.

The ability to see what’s coming has nothing to do with innate powers. Instead, the vision is the result of common sense and observation.

The band includes three saxophone players–baritone, alto and tenor. In addition, there is also sousapohone, guitar, bass, drums, trumpet, trombone and keyboards. The music is clearly jazz with a heavy ska influence. The sound is rhythmic enough that people break dance to it, as evidenced by participants at the SXSW festival. The groove is just as important as the message.

On “Outside the Comfort Zone,” the group takes on racial unrest. The prediction is that a white supremacist apartheid society will develop while consumers are otherwise engaged.

I have written previously about the artwork found on another jazz release. Free Radicals’ CD cover gives audiences a great deal of symbols to unpack.

The setting is an American family-style restaurant. A white family of two parents, a baby and two school-aged children sit wide-eyed in front of table piled high with food. The family stuffs themselves while watching their phones. They are served by a waitress who wears a jacket emblazoned with the album’s title, “Outside the Comfort Zone.”

Just outside the window, a trio of armed military personnel frisk four adults and one child, all of whom have their hands raised in “Don’t shoot!” position. The group represents brown, black and Middle Eastern people. One woman wears a burka.

In the distance, a military tank chases a taco truck. The images might look as though they’ve come from a realistic comic book, but they are sobering in their truth.

“Outside the Comfort Zone”: Jazz that gets political

So that listeners do not forget what this band is about, the song titles remind them. Tracks such as “The Legals Have a Lunch,” “Audacity of Drones,” “Cheeto News Coma,” and “Survival of the Oblivious” take serious jazz to another dimension.

Free Radicals’ for the people approach to jazz is also found in their willingness to play wherever they are invited. The group plays weddings, funerals, break dancing competitions, and punk rock house parties. They are also not above marching to support targeted populations for whom the threat of ‘apartheid’ is real.

“Doomsday Clock”

I appreciate when new music reminds me of older music that I like. In this case, the ska jazz stylings on “Doomsday Clock” remind me of “House of Fun” by Madness, and “Wrong Way” by Sublime. The horn-rich sound is taken up a notch by drums with just open-sounding enough to keep them from being too rock and roll.

Ska horns are at their best in my opinion when they can sound a bit mournful. That is what happens here. It is a catchy, relatively short tune that makes sense in relation to the title.

Free Radicals packs 24 songs onto one CD. Prospective listeners should look at the artwork, get a feel for the band’s mission, and play the recording.

“Outside the Comfort Zone” is due out Sept. 23, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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