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Make no mistake, the vigorous aural experience known as XMARSX is just one more prime example of the fierce individualism exhibited by Chicago bandleader Mars Williams. Whether blowing free jazz with Witches & Devils or pushing the limits of jazz-funk with his ensemble Liquid Soul, Williams is an exhilarating soloist boasting an arsenal of original sounds. His many artistic accomplishments are diverse but reveal a distinctive sonic identity regardless of the context.
Yes, that was Mars Williams studying with AACM stalwarts like Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Braxton in the late 1970's. And yes, that was the same Mars Williams providing textured dynamics to rock groups like The Waitresses, The Psychedelic Furs, and even Ministry in the 1980's. And still yes again, that was Liquid Soul who received a Grammy Nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Album in 2000. In any and all cases, the powerful saxophone stylings of Mars Williams can scorch and burn like no other.
A veteran bandleader, Williams is an artist with a penchant for rabid eclecticism. Certainly, his time with Hal Russell in the original NRG Ensemble helped to hone Mars' more theatrical instincts. And after Hal's sad passing, it was Mars' insight that led him to invite reedist Ken Vandermark to succeed Russell in the NRG. Surely, the time Mars spent in Manhattan playing with mavericks like Bill Laswell and John Zorn helped to strengthen his creative resolve. And his ongoing relationship with saxophone-brother-in-arms Vandermark is illustrated in their duo Cinghiale, as well as with Witches & Devils and some time spent playing together in the Vandermark 5. There's no doubt as to Williams' imposing improvisational skills as he can be also found collaborating with Vandermark, Mats Gustafson and Joe McPhee in Peter Brotzmann's Tentet.
Now Mars Williams encapsulates his vast range of musical experience with the group XMARSX. Although the core line-up of XMARSX grew directly out of his upstart rock-jazz ensemble Slam, Williams' newest project is adventurous while maintaining a modern accessibility. And while XMARSX runs the absolute gamut with their rock-noise-improv-electric-funky-no-wave-jazz-punk, there's a unified focus to their sensibility. Along with Williams, guitarist Greg Suran (Goo Goo Dolls, Blue Man Group, Slam), drummer Dave Suycott (Machines Of Loving Grace, Stabbing Westward, Slam), and Kent Kessler (Vandermark 5, NRG Ensemble, Brotzmann Tentet) comprise the potent nucleus of XMARSX. Additional contributions from Williams' longtime associate, cellist Frederick Longberg-Holm (Terminal 4, Witches & Devils, NRG, Brotzmann) adds both color and nuance to this capable ensemble. His cello lends a distinctive ambiance to the band as well as an dynamic intensity, sparring with Kessler's bass and providing lighter string sounds for subtlety.
Besides the stellar musicianship of the players listed above, it's also the charismatic presence of Brother Wayne Kramer (MC5) that makes this project unique. As everyone knows, legendary proto-punk-metal guitarist Wayne Kramer absorbed the supersonic sounds of Sun Ra and his Arkestra and is no stranger to the work of Coltrane and his peers. Kramer's jazz attitude makes XMARSX the perfect outlet for his free-rock guitarismo as well as his idiosyncratic beat-jive recitations. Between Williams and Kramer, XMARSX strut their punk and no wave roots with loads of energy and unbridled enthusiasm. The compositions are structured and smart, abrasive but engaging, swinging, spiraling, and stretching the limits of all involved. With able-bodied soloing and edgy improvisation a bottom-line prerequisite, XMARSX is a non-elitist ensemble upholding the grand tradition of Chicago experimentalism. All you need to know is that there's a sense of adventure with XMARSX that can't be faked. -critroc