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The Souljazz Orchestra

The Souljazz Orchestra - Inner Fire

Inner Fire
Strut - 2014

Michael Panontin
The Souljazz Orchestra have been at it for a dozen years or so and on their latest full-length they appear to be once again in fine form. The Ottawa-based afro-jazz sextet have definitely come a long way from the days when they could fire up blistering note-perfect homages to Fela Kuti, like 2007's 'Mista President', from their breakthrough Freedom No Go Die. Inner Fire is their third for the UK-based Strut Records and is about as eclectic as ever, effortlessly mixing East African jazz with Latin rhythms, afrobeat and even highlife.

Keyboardist and chief songwriter Pierre Chretien explained, "We've been playing a lot of these different tropical styles for a very long time, and I find these terms lose a bit of their meaning after a while. Labels like to use them for press releases and stuff, and I guess they're necessary to discuss things, but really I see all these styles as related." That cultural cross-pollination is evident right off the bat. 'Kingdom Come' melds sultry Ethiopian jazz with Cuban horns, while the upbeat 'One Life to Live' is a rather interesting bossa-highlife blend. 'Sommet En Sommet' is even better, taking what would appear to be a languid Latin groove and plaiting it with lush horns and some positively stunning saxophone. But the real gem here is their cover of Andy Bey's cosmic corker 'Celestial Blues'. This little-known spiritual jazz track, first performed by the Gary Bartz NTU Troop back in 1971, is given the large-ensemble treatment, with a fired-up drumbeat, a maniacally plucked bass and a vocal performance by percussionist Marielle Rivard just this side of Fontella Bass - it's almost as if the Art Ensemble of Chicago had covered it themselves during their years in Paris. Amazing!


     The Souljazz Orchestra

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