Free Radicals are, strangely enough, one of Houston's most stable ensembles. Their music may vary wildly from song to song, from jazz and klezmer to ska and rap, but the band drummer Nick Cooper started in 1996 has had a steady core of members for most of those years. Baritone saxophonist Pete Sullivan joined a couple of years after that, bassist Theo Bijarro's tenure is approaching double digits, and Jason Jackson on alto sax has been around a while as well.
The group most often numbers seven members (also with guitarist Al Bear, percussionist Chris Howard and trumpeter Doug Falk), but Cooper recruited an astounding 48 musicians to assist on the Radicals' new album and first in eight years, The Freedom Fence.
On the 23-track album, which the band releases Saturday night at Fitz with a few guests, Free Radicals examine the idea of borders and boundaries from all possible sides and nationalities -- from the Israeli/Palestinean conflict, the Zapatistas, and even the Iron Curtain to issues a lot closer to home, such as Third Ward gentrification and the considerable number of Houston jazz musicians who have wound up in Ben Taub Hospital.
Rocks Off spoke with Cooper about the sprawling, complicated Freedom Fence -- and the sprawling, complicated Free Radicals -- earlier this week.