The SoulJazz Orchestra – Rising Sun | Album Review

The Souljazz Orchestra is already onto their fourth album release with LP Rising Sun, on Strut Records, carving onto their famous love for Afro, jazz and Latin beats a new bright cast.  Concentrating on jazz this album round, SoulJazz carry their militant lyrics only in black and white notes as this album is all instrumental.

SoulJazz is a surprising sextet in that it features no strings: no guitar and no bass.  Instead this Ottawa band gives full stage to vocals and a genial saxophone range – with three saxophonists on tenor, baritone and alto – plus three acolites on vintage keyboard, percussion and drums.  Transposing renowned melodies into colourful fresh jams is a creative process that seems rooted to the marrow of SoulJazz Orchestra’s instruments, they make re-interpretations sound innate and vibrant: for cover songs that run on guitar and organ lines, SoulJazz uses instead the marimba, the flute, clarinet, harps and vibraphones.

Nine-track Rising Sun opens with ‘Awakening’, a flow of keyboard playing so gentle it sounds like translucent liquid hugging glittering sax.  Then brace yourselves with the explosive ‘Agbara’ which is so catching that even the strictly instrumental rendering is broken by an irresistible onomatopoeic ‘booboobeeda’ leaping from the vocalists.

Bowing notes to legends Fela Kuti with track ‘Mamaya’ and to Pharoah Sanders (his 1981 album and track titled ‘Rejoice’) with their closing tracks ‘Rejoice Part 1’ and ‘Rejoice Part 2’, the SoulJazz Orchestra stretches the musical canvas all the way East in Africa to Ethiopia with covers of Mulatu Astatke on ‘Negus’ (meaning ‘king’)… Mulatu, indeed King you were and still are.

This album is not all covers however, it is more an inspiration on Jazz themes especially since SoulJazz does not follow the expected instrumental line up, they are too spontaneous and funky for that.

SoulJazz is one beast of a performing band, it has toured Canada and Europe several times over since its creation in 2002, joining arms with live acts such as the beat-fantastic Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and French Afrobeat yummies : the superb Fanga.  The SoulJazz Orchestra have become live performing artists that are embedded in the tar and happy fever of concert halls and festivals.  Just returned from a European tour they are about to embark onto another, performing at Glastonbury on 25th June.

Admittedly, this LP is not as its previous siblings which grabbed its audience and made them shake the floor all night and day, and sing to ‘Mista President’ or ‘Freedom No Go Die’.  Rising Sun is of a nature more introvert I would say, a variation of style that goes straight to prove that SoulJazz impeccably does Jazz.  This band’s talent is clear and their album is well built, coherent and more importantly unstoppable, I could not turn it off and left it playing until… well erm, now as you read this no doubt.

–Nadia Ghanem

The SoulJazz Orchestra – Rising Sun is out now on Strut Records.

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