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.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek