The Souljazz Orchestra

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Solidarity Review

by Thom Jurek

Canada's Souljazz Orchestra were well-known to European audiences before their 2010 Strut debut, Rising Sun; it was the sextet's first all-acoustic effort. Meeting with nearly universal acclaim, it spread the sextet's well-deserved reputation for creating a musically adventurous meld of global styles, accurately reflecting roots cultures in dialogue with one another in the 21st century -- without watering them down. Solidarity furthers the band's reach as it employs vocal talents from a wide range of singers from Canada's vast underground music scene. The band employs its usual meld of Afro-beat, Caribbean, tropical, Latin, and Brazilian styles with jazz, funk, and soul, but the interaction with singers brings the mix to a whole different level. Set opener "Bibinay" features El Hadji "Élage" M'Baye, a Senegalese native who now resides in Quebec. Here, Afro-beat and Eithio-jazz meet slippery funk grooves from the modern West. The layers of guitars and distorted keyboards (Pierre Chrétien) are folded in to layers of percussion, horns, and a call-and-response chorus. Immediately following, M'Baye leads the band in the funk number "Kelen Ati Leen." "Ya Basta" showcases the band's horn section as it employs incendiary salsa in an excellentstepper, with a vocal from the Souljazz Orchestra's resident conguero and drummer, Philippe Lafrenière leading the furious dance chant. "Jericho" is on the roots reggae tip with baritone saxophonist Ray Murray on vocals, while the more streetwise "Kingpin" goes at reggae with guest Gary "Slim" Moore leading the swaggering bubbler. The other reggae-inflected jam here, "Conquering Lion," is hard on the jazz-funk tip with killer front-line horns on all burners. "Serve & Protect" is a furious rhythm collision of Afro-beat and Latin rhythms. While horns assert themselves at the start, it's the keys, layers of manic percussion, and M'Baye and a chorus that send this one over as the set's strongest cut. Ultimately, Solidarity is seamless. No matter how high they set the bar here, the Souljazz Orchestra executes. The music is always exciting, soulful, and expertly played, and never falls prey to clichés.

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