The fifth recording for Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls continues on the path of celebrating freedom fighters the drummer/leader is inspired by and admires. This version of the band retains saxophonist Geof Bradfield and welcomes new members Greg Ward on alto sax (from Broken Things), guitarist Dave Miller (taking over for Jeff Parker), and bassist Jake Vinsel (in for Noel Kupersmith). The multi-cultural jazz concept of Sirota remains, using African-based ideas merged within a progressive jazz and modern creative framework, while also paying tribute to two late pop music icons -- Bob Marley and Joe Strummer. Sirota's drumming itself is self-assured and melodic, working off precepts from jazz greats like Art Blakey and Max Roach, while also taking into account a communal tribal village concept that makes the Rebel Souls a tight-knit unit. He's composed one piece for this date, as "Killa Dilla" has the funky 4/4 to reggae style down pat, with Miller's effects-driven electric guitar delving deep into the dub thing. From the other bandmembers, Bradfield's "J.Y.D." brands an Ornette Coleman-type melody into a bluesy swing to free passage, Vinsel's "Little D" is a dour to happy Afro-beat tune, Ward gives us "The Keys to Freedom" in a funky R&B stance, and Miller's "Tollway" has an introspective nature that belies its bluesy swing via Bradfield's bass clarinet. The band offers a stirring rendition of the Charles Mingus instrumental protest song "Free Cell Block F, 'Tis Nazi U.S.A.," faster than the original with typically shifting dynamics, played very well. A two-part take of Miriam Makeba's soulful kwela "Polo Mze" turns into a thorny rocker courtesy of Miller's guitar, parsed by Vinsel's bass solo in the middle. Among all of this excellent music, there's even more as the band riffs on an anthemic intro to the strident beat of "Clampdown" penned by the Clash's Strummer and Mick Jones, and does the little-\ known song of oppression by Caetano Veloso, "13 DeMaio," as Afro highlife-meets-Brazilian tropical rain forest atmospheres, accented by handclaps and the powerful Roach-cum-Sunny Murray drumming of Sirota. Then there's Stephen Foster's "Hard Times," somewhat a spiritual in the hands of the Rebel Souls, but more a prayer song as Ward's alto and Bradfield's bass clarinet join hands and look ahead to better days. While this recording is not much different stylistically than Sirota's previous four efforts, it shows a thematic development that marks not only consistency, but a re-dedication to the core values of a true democracy where oppression and poverty are not tolerated, and the will of the people comes first. Of course, the music is great as well, and comes easily recommended, as do all of the Rebel Souls finely crafted projects.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos