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Album Review

On 2012's Solidarity, Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra collaborated with a host of singers from various traditions. The end result was a melodic, groove-laden expansion of the band's global vision. Inner Fire was recorded in analog and co-produced by bandleader, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Pierre Chrétien and Jason Jakunas. It is easily the group's most diverse outing, and also its most relaxed, but that doesn't mean lazy. "Kingdom Come" features a glorious, staggered horn chart that evokes Salah Ragab-esque Egyptian jazz. Solos from Chrétien's vibes, Ray Murray's baritone, and guest Ed Lister's muted trumpet illuminate the processional Eastern groove. "One Life to Live" uses Afro-beat as its initial engine; the meld of African and Caribbean rhythms provided by drummer Philippe Lafreniere and percussionist Marielle Rivard is intoxicating. "As the Crow Flies" weds samba, Cuban mambo, and Caribbean funk. Steve Berndt's trombone and Zakari Frantz's flute wind around and through the center of the horn chart, punctuated by Steve Patterson's deeply expressive tenor solo. Speaking of Latin, "Agoya" is one of the set's true salsa cookers, with a chunky horn arrangement, burning congas, shekere, claves, and other percussion from Rivard and Lafreniere, with a chanted backing chorus. "East Flows the River" is a slow burner, with moaning (pre-Thomas A. Dorsey style) gospel drones, Egyptian jazz, and blues. "Black Orchid" is a sunny bolero, with funky soul-jazz undertones. And the Afro-Guinean fusion in the12/8, "Sommett on Sommett," is a stunner. The set's biggest surprise, however, is the cover of "Celestial Blues." Written by Andy Bey during his tenure with Gary Bartz's NTU Troop, it opens with a woody bass solo from Philippe Charbonneau. It's the only tune here with lead vocals, provided in grand '70s spiritual jazz-soul style by Rivard. The shuffling pace is a bit faster in this reading, punctuated by bluesy piano and meaty vibes from Chrétien with a gritty alto solo from Frantz as a topper. Lafreniere's drum kit holds a deep pocket for the ensemble. Inner Fire is a showcase for the Souljazz Orchestra's depth and experience. They can stretch into new areas, melding the vast array of musical styles at their disposal almost instinctively without sacrificing groove in their ambition.

Customer Reviews

Awesome!

I'm somewhat surprised by the lack of response to this album, as I believe this could easily hold its own in any "best of 2014 jazz" list. I can only hope that this rises to the attention of the public eye and becomes the deal it deserves to be. I've listened to quite a bit of jazz over the years, and have rarely ever heard an album that draws inspiration from such a diversity of styles, yet adheres itself to one distinctive sound that holds a good listener's attention from start to finish. Every musician in this group is superbly talented, and they build off of each other effortlessly. An original (and sexy -- just listen to that trumpet in "Agoya!") jazz album in an era where such a feat is rather difficult. So glad I discovered the Souljazz Orchestra! If you enjoy Trombone Shorty and want some Samba infusion added to your 2010s jazz-funk library, check these guys out!

Dope

Great vibes!

Amazing

More folks need to discover this. One of my favorites of 2014 thus far.

Biography

Formed: 2002 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Genre: World

Years Active: '00s, '10s

A multicultural, high-energy collective from Ottawa, Ontario, the Souljazz Orchestra — featuring keyboardist Pierre Chrétien, alto saxophonist Zakari Frantz, baritone saxophonist Ray Murray, tenor saxophonist Steve Patterson, and percussionists Marielle Rivard and Philippe Lafrenière, all of whom are also vocalists — took root in 2002 and debuted with a fully developed sound that fused Latin and African jazz, funk, and Afro-beat. The group’s first album was Uprooted, released in 2005...
Full Bio
Inner Fire, The Souljazz Orchestra
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