Chicago drummer, bandleader, and composer Ted Sirota has one of the hottest bands around right now with his Rebel Souls. This 2000 date, issued on the British Naim label, is a wonderful precursor to 2004's Breeding Resistance. For starters, this is the first place that Sirota's right-hand man, saxophonist and composer Geof Bradfield, makes an appearance along with fellow reedman Kevin Kizer. Also on hand are Rob Mazurek, guitarist Jeff Parker, and bassist Noel Kupersmith, who have since moved on and have been replaced. But Vs. the Forces of Evil showcases the mature Rebel Souls ensemble sound. Using jazz as his way to enter other musical worlds, Sirota and company move through vanguard new jazz courtesy of Bradfield's excellent composition "Grendel," where Parker's guitar briefly caresses John McLaughlin's work on Miles Davis' "Spanish Key" and moves into an exploration of Latin and Afro-Caribbean themes. Mazurek's "Tight Rope" is a taut exercise in striated harmonics and shifting rhythmic patterns; its melody becomes a bridge to tonal inquiry and contrapuntal soloing. Parker's balladry on "You Know Me" is exceptional; his willingness to slacken the tension in order to offer a melodic theme that builds toward something else is arresting. The dubbed-out reggae-jazz of "Tubby," by Sirota, underscores his commitment not only to musics from other traditions, but also his commitment to a jazz that can express virtually all things. Parker's guitar, interjected with the horns in front, lines their best dread strut. "Dig to China," with its straight bebop intro and dissonant yet edgeless harmony, presents a stomping exercise in intense, wonderfully wrought post-bop articulation. Near the end of the album the Tal Farlow-influenced "Wonder" by Bradfield offersa an elegant Latin-tinged lyricism entwined with a stalwart rhythmic attack that dances--rather than crashes--though a beautiful, grooved-out funky space, that gives way to a more modal but nonetheless reserved harmonic touch. In sum, it's a fine album, one that should have better distributionr here in the States but is well worth seeking out. Nonetheless, it and Breeding Resistance make a compelling case for the Rebel Souls -- an instantly identifiable, multivalent, and fully developed ensemble -- as one of the bands to watch.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek