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Talking Freely

[whitespace] L.B. Free took his band Manifest Yesterday from the Bay Area to Oman and back

By Nicky Baxter

When Bay Area sextet Manifest Yesterday goes on tour, it really goes on tour. Last year, an authentic Arabian prince offered the group a gig in the Sultanate of Oman, and for 15 days in November, the group performed before big spenders and got the royal treatment. Manifest destiny, or a one-off fluke?

Lance Freeman, a.k.a. L.B. Free, the ensemble's founder, lead vocalist and lyricist, is hopeful that the out-of-town job--coupled with a newly released self-titled CD--will provide the leg up his band has been working toward. "We were definitely due for a good break," he allows.

So the trek to Arabia wasn't just an inspired bit of PR? No way, says L.B. "We were playing," he recalls, "and [the prince] walked in during the second set. He came in with an entourage. He was very low-key. I didn't even know he was the prince at the time. After the gig, he came up to me and said, 'You guys were great. Have you considered working overseas?' "

Small wonder that the prince was impressed. Manifest Yesterday's brand of melting-pot pop is not easy to resist whether you're foreign-born or homegrown.

"It was basically a two-week engagement," Free tells me, "which was much more manageable than, say, a two-month thing. I negotiated well, so we made very good money. I'm pretty sure we'll go back. We had a great experience there. We were treated extremely well."

Free continues, "Muscat, the capital of Oman, was really picturesque. It's on the Arabian Sea--incredible. But when we were there that whole thing with Saddam Hussein was happening. So we were a little concerned. The people, though, weren't concerned; I was really surprised. They knew it was a bunch of posturing."

As a singer, Free is self-styled, though on occasion, he might remind some of a youthful Gil Scott-Heron; certainly "Ebony Irony" on the new album bears the graying griot's stamp, both vocally and lyrically. Having performed as a featured vocalist with Oakland's highly touted 50-voiced Jazz Choir for two years, then subsequently fronting the Wammie Award-winning hip-hop freestyling troupe One Nation Underground, the Oakland native has had plenty of experience honing his singing skills.

Nevertheless, philosophically, Free is more Sly than Heron, favoring themes that encourage individuals to wage "revolution" on a personal, human level. And, as the new album's "The Stew" makes explicit, Free is also profoundly committed to multiculti art and life. Introduced by an thumping bass and detonating drum pattern, the tune finds the singer scat-rapping against parochialism: "My philosophy as an axiom/Life is a classroom/Melting pot 101."

Free once described his music as "jazzhopsoul." Now, he is content to call what Manifest Yesterday does "soul music." Which is true, if your definition of the genre includes slabs of Led Zeppelin rock, early-'70s fusion, bass-ignited funk and more. Though the admixture misfires now and then, Free is an artist of unwavering faith and commitment to his musical vision.

Interestingly, Manifest Yesterday's guiding force doesn't see the new CD as a huge milestone but as a stepping stone: "The next step is to continue to integrate our influences, which are broader than what we have on one particular CD."

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Web extra to the February 5-11, 1998 issue of Metro.

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