Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani
The Souljazz Orchestra‘s new album feels like a grand tour. The 10-song album Inner Fire (Strut Records) cycles through styles, showing off beautiful fluency in Afro and Latin genres with nods to big band and hip-hop. It’s a showcase of the six-piece band’s musical diversity. While previous albums underscored the group’s deep appreciation for spiritual jazz, roots music, and the work of Fela Kuti, Inner Fire offers a fuller menu of the band’s influences.
“It’s a bit like Coltrane meeting Ebo Taylor and Willie Colon, with Madlib producing,” Pierre Chretien (vibraphone, piano, harp, guitar) told Sound Seekers during the making of the album. Chretien wrote most of the tracks on Inner Fire, which was recorded at Jason Jaknunas’ Metropolitan Studios in Ottawa. This album — The Souljazz Orchestra’s sixth release — sees percussionists Phillipe Lafreniere and Marielle Rivard at front and centre. Both shine in their roles as primary vocalists on the tracks “Agoya” and “Celestial Blues,” respectively.
The song is a soulful hip-hoppin’ cover of the 1971 Andy Bey track. Souljazz Orchestra sax player Ray Murray turned the rest of the band on to the tune years ago. “The lyrics are beautiful, spiritual, and uplifting, without being too preachy or dogmatic,” Chretien says. The band filled out the originally sparse song with a bumpin’ arrangement of trumpet, trombone, flute, alto sax, bass clarinet, vibraphone, piano, upright bass, and percussion.
The band compiled images from vintage, public-domain NASA astronomy documentaries for the video of “Celestial Blues.” It’s one of many stick-in-your-head songs on Inner Fire, which has a great pace from the tip-toeing “Initiation” to the reflective “One Life to Live,” to the pouncing “Agoya” and the closer, “Completion.”
The album serves as a great late introduction to the band, for those not familiar with their back catalogue, which includes Solidarity (2012), Rising Sun (2010), and the massively well-received Freedom No Go Die (2006). For an even quicker crash-course, you can stream this seven-minute mini mix that the band made in the lead-up to the album release.
The band received two Juno nominations in 2011 and 2013 and tours internationally. (Find some of their tour stories in this Sound Seekers post from 2013).
The Souljazz Orchestra play an intimate concert on Feb. 15 at Le Petit Chicago in Old Hull. They return to Ottawa on March 15 for a show at Babylon Nightclub, and head to Wakefield on May 10 to play The Black Sheep Inn. Inner Fire, available on CD and vinyl, is out on Feb. 24. souljazzorchestra.com