"The horn-heavy, continually evolving collective Free Radicals produces a wildly eclectic fusion that has as many influences as there are items in the Houston, Texas, pawnshop in which they honed their sound during all-night jam sessions. The mark of such musicians as Henry Threadgill, Charles Mingus, James Brown, and the Skatalites can be heard on the twenty-nine songs on the band's self-produced debut CD, "The Rising Tide Sinks All," which, by the way, features fifty-five musicians. Expect fewer live performers, but no less of a wild show." - The New Yorker, 3/27/00
Weekly Alibi, Albuquerque, 1/7/99
"If Eric Dolphy, George Clinton and Frank Zappa led a ska band, they might sound something like Houston's Free Radicals. It's a fitting name for a band who are completely unafraid of the inherent risks of bastardizing jazz, ska, funk, rock, rap and world music, yet acutely aware of musicality at all times. The music that results is groove-soaked experimentation. But the liberty Free Radicals take with such a diverse array of musical forms stops well short of avant crap. Free Radicals keep things real by creating some of the most carefully arranged hybrid songs around and keep things fresh with an ever-mutating conglomeration of musicians--some 50 players appear in their most recent release, The Rising Tide Sinks All (Rastaman Work Ethic). No two songs are alike and not a single one can be effectively safety-pinned to the lapel of any genre. The ska-based songs have surf guitar breaks, the free jazz rides a funk wave and lounge swank gets its winking eyeball pierced by double-edged rock guitar--the combinations are endless and so is the pleasure of listening to Free Radicals work their weird magic. Free Radicals are a music writer's dream: with bands as capable and imaginative as this, one doesn't have to be careful with words like "unique." Bands like this embody the very concept."
"Not only is Free Radicals the best unsigned band in Houston, it's the most hyped band in town likely to never land a deal. That stigma, however, has nothing to do with quality or proficiency: An ever-mutating, en masse collective, Free Radicals - at one time or another - can boast the participation of no less than 60 of the city's finest and most visionary players, all coming together under the premise of a vast and indefinable fusion. Jazz, hip-hop, rock, ska, soul, experimental noise - Free Radicals don't discriminate; it's music just the same. And if there is a reluctant beacon of sanity in all the improvisational chaos, it's Nick Cooper, whose impassioned political poetry blankets the liner notes of the group's self-released debut CD, The Rising Tide Sinks All Ships, and whose steady hand behind the drum kit often steers the Radicals' on-stage excursions. Live, of course, the band's membership drops to a more manageable number (usually under ten). These guys are good, but they're not contortionists."
Houston Press, 6/25/98
"We're probably more of a jazz band than anything else," admits bassist Shawn Durrani, "because of our ability to improvise." But, he adds, "I'm always worried that we'll come across as a fusion band." Certainly, the Radicals' potent and eclectic instrumental mix covers a heck of a lot of ground: funk, ska, R&B, acid jazz and post-rock. Improv and standard jazz provide the basis for their wilder flights of fancy. For three years, drummer Nick Cooper was the group's only permanent fixture, but in July of last year, he found more permanent partners. Not that he's closed the doors to potential jam partners: The Radicals' debut CD, The Rising Tide Sinks All, spreads 55 musicians across 29 tracks, swinging and swaying across genres and continents. Looped funk collides with Texas jazz mainstays, ska rhythms, African singing, Indian musicians, blasts of saxophone, South African percussion, tablas and rapping. And somehow it works. In its current incarnation (which includes saxophonists Marcos Melchor and Pete Sullivano, pianist Tsepo Rhodes, trumpet player John Durbin and new, one-name guitarists John and Stu), the band plays compositions that appear on Tide, but they don't try to replicate the record. Live, the group blasts a wall of sound bigger than most rock bands. But the band members and their tunes have bigger aspirations and ambitions than that. The band is writing new material, with a mini-tour in the works for the end of the summer and plans for a new record. Durrani notes that on their next release, they will most likely distinguish between the performing troupe and guest musicians. Not, he admits, that the distinction will be obvious: "The funny thing is, a lot of the guest musicians on the record were in the band at one time." (D.S.) critics choice: Free Radicals "
O.C. Weekly, Orange County, CA, 12/25/98
"Houston-based Free Radicals includes former members of Sprawl, a band that played OC pretty regularly back in the early 90's and even had a following here. If you were among that following, you should know that Free Radicals are playing a bunch of shows around here after the new year. We'll be there for at least one of them, and so should you because if they're as tasty live as The Rising Tide Sinks All promises, they'll smoke. The Free Radicals hammer out a startlingly superb blend of genre-jumping rhythms and riffs that stretch from jazz to funk to ska to R&B to hip-hop to world beat, and back again - sometimes in the same damn song - and they make it all work without any bad, show-offy aftertaste. The Middle Eastern tabla thumping on "Larium Dreams" is exotic and peaceful; the old-school two-tone that pumps up "Home of Easy Credit" sounds like ska being birthed; "Ilalihamani" - the word itself is cool - is haunted by dreamy tribal chants that float above phat, shit-about-to-happen conga hits; song titles like "The School of the Americas," "Elegy for Ken Saro-Wiwa" and "The Capital Punishment Capital" tell us about their politics; and the stream of consciousness Leftie-ish rap that makes up "The Occupation" is only made freakier by the oom-pah-pah tune that blares uncaringly in the back, as seductively rough as the rhymes on "That Ain't No Lamb" are silky and supple. At 74 minutes - not one of them wasted - The Rising Tide Sinks All and the Free Radicals come off sounding as if War, Miles Davis, the Skatalites, Gil Scot-Heron and the Watts Prophets all got together in a studio, fired up some fatties, and jammed till they were sore. When we were blaring this in the Weekly office, some people thought the disc's sloooow jazz/R&B workouts sounded so salacious that they could only be songs from a porno flick. In a way, they're right: Free Radicals guarantee a great fucking Time."
"The Rising Tide Sinks All Some days, it really pays to be Nick Cooper. Fully recovered from his stint as drummer with the ska-klezmer-whatever band Sprawl, Cooper took a break to check out the various Houston scenes. He spent a bit of time recording and producing rap & jazz acts (observe his work with Necessary Tension) and, after he'd soaked up these various influences, went into his portable recording laboratory to create what would become Free Radicals. In a twist typical of the modern digital recording era, the CD was produced, and then a band formed after the fact. Good thing, too, cuz there aren't too many places in town that could host a 55-piece soul/funk entourage. Oh, and here's an added bonus not advertised about this release (for the musicians out there)--it makes a pretty cool funky Aebersold session."
-- Kelly Dean
Public News, 7/8/98
"There are some things in this world that are too good to ignore, outstanding even. So outstanding in fact, that people will make sure that you know that it is out there. The Free Radicals superb piece of work is one of those CDs that is so good that people call me five times a day so that I won't forget to at least mention this musical apex. It is a mixture of musical styles so diverse you would think you were listening to jazz, funk, rap, ska, and world music all at the same time. Let it not be said that this group can be pigeonholed. Oh, no, far from it. Songs like "That Ain't No Lamb" mix the homophobia and pseudo-politics of a liberal white man with the stern strong voice of a black man creating a soul stirring version of the conspiracy that surrounds this piece. The horn section on "The Home Of Easy Credit" is funky enough to make you want to listen to actual ska records and not their bastardized offspring. I could go on and on about this CD, because if I don't they may corner Gracie at a hip hop show and complain that I didn't say enough. Long overdue, but not allowed to be forgotten is the Public News review of the Free Radicals, The Rising Tide Sinks All. Buy it, steal it, dub it, or do whatever needs to be done to have this album. And, please tell Nick Cooper you read it in Public News."
-- Kwame M. Anderson
Urban Beat v.4 issue 12
"Free Radicals is an appropriate name for this Houston-based funk/jazz group who's musical style changes freely over the course of The Rising Tide Sinks All, their 29 track, '98 release from Rastaman Work Ethic. Most of the songs have an instrumental, horn based sound, but singers, rappers and spoken work artists accompany many of the tracks that are filled with Ska, psychedelic-funk, and hip-hop beats, mellow, jazzy background horns, folk blues sounds, and, on songs like "Circus of Life" and "Lights Down" lyrics that become extended metaphors of a political message. A lot of CDs are released to make a profit, but with more than 50 musicians involved in the project, and many diverse styles, The Rising Tide Sinks All has been made to give the pleasure that comes from listening to great music."
-- Paul Smylie