Sep 24, 2012

The Souljazz Orchestra - Solidarity


Canada’s hardest working super-group, The Souljazz Orchestra, return at full throttle this September with Solidarity, a new collaborative album featuring a range of unique artists from their country’s vibrant underground groove scene. Rooted in rhythmically rich musical traditions of the past, the Souljazz Orchestra have kept their eyes firmly on the future, pushing the boundaries of soul, jazz and tropical styles with a new set of heavyweight songs, unified by an underlying message of positive social change.Solidarity is an eclectic collaborative album featuring a range of unique artists from Canada’s vibrant underground scene, including Senegalese-Canadian artist Élage M’baye, Brazilian-Canadian singer-songwriter Rômmel Teixeira Ribeiro, and Jamaican-Canadian vocalist Slim Moore, better known for his work with the Mar-Kays.

After the success of their last record, the all-acoustic, instrumental outing, Rising Sun, the Orchestra returns to electric, vocal-driven compositions on Solidarity, inviting in a selection of singers with whom they have collaborated at different times over the last decade. Hailing from diverse musical backgrounds, the guests were the catalyst for memorable artistic exchange, allowing each party to feed off the other and venture beyond their usual realm of experience into fresh musical territory.

The album’s cast includes singer, percussionist and songwriter El Hadji “Élage” M’baye, originally from Saint-Louis off the coast of Sénégal, now resident in Gatineau, Québec, a descendant of a long line of griot minstrels, acknowledged for his fusions of traditional Wolof sounds with modern popular music; singer, songwriter and guitarist Rômmel Teixeira Ribeiro, hailing from São Luís in North-Eastern Brazil, now living in downtown Ottawa, recognised for his unusual mix of native Brazilian styles with North American, West African and Caribbean influences; vocalist and songwriter Slim Moore, born in Overbrook, Ontario to Jamaican parents, better known for his soul-oriented work with the Mar-Kays but exploring here reggae-tinged original Patois material; brilliant jazz trumpeter Nicholas Dyson; versatile singer Amelia Leclair on backing vocals; and the full Souljazz Orchestra core complete the line-up, with vocal contributions by drummer / conguero Philippe Lafrenière and baritone saxophonist Ray Murray.
The compositions that arose from the sessions are in a variety of Afro, Latin and Caribbean styles, all connected by a consistent thread of North American soul and jazz sensibilities. Featuring lyrics sung in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Wolof (with borrowings from French and Arabic), the songs touch on subjects ranging from social and political issues to relationships and traditional folk tales.

The plugged-in direction of the new album also provided the band with an excuse to dig out some of their dusty, forgotten electric instruments from the attic: an ancient vibrato-heavy transistor organ, pawn shop hollow-body electric guitars, a warbling psychedelic tape-echo machine, a cavernous surf-guitar spring reverb unit, even an old Italian-made Elka electric piano rescued from a garbage can. The album was recorded onto a temperamental Tascam 8-track tape machine inherited from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at a surplus sale. The resultant sound is gritty, low-budget and analogue and the musicianship is, as always, vice-tight.

Now celebrating their 10th year, The Souljazz Orchestra continue their unrivalled run of fine albums. Breaking through on Toronto label Do Right!, Freedom No Go Die (2006, featuring their huge single “Mista President”) and Manifesto (2008) set the bar high. 2010′s Rising Sun, their first for Strut, was recognised as a landmark in deep, spiritual Afro jazz. Meanwhile, as a live unit, the Orchestra have become an in-demand fixture at venues and festivals worldwide and successfully toured the US for the first time during 2012.


On September 18th, the Canadian group Souljazz Orchestra will released their new CD “Solidarity” on the Strut Records label. The album is a collaboration between the group and several unique artists from Canada’s underground scene. With a fusion of Afro jazz, World, tropical and Caribbean flavors, “Solidarity” is sure to please even the most discriminating musical palates.

“Bibinay” a medium tempo track featuring Senegalese-Canadian singer, percussionist and songwriter Élage Mbaye and a Gato Barbieri style tenor solo along with an Afro chant call and response, is serious, and should be most appreciated on the world stage. Now, one thing to note about the Souljazz Orchestra is that they have a spectacular horn section that is best illustrated by the cut “Ya Basta” which also includes some salsa as a nice touch. Keyboards and flute are especially strong on this track, and the lead vocalist is solid with good background vocals as well. “Solidarity” goes reggae with the tracks “Kingpin” and “Jericho” which have great arrangements and mixing. On the uptempo side are “Serve And Protect” on which the organ player got a chance to shine along with the percussion, “Conquering Lion” which is funky to the core, and the Latin cut “Tambou Lou”, which has one of the best guitar performances on the CD.

So, after showcasing their skills at mid to uptempo numbers, Souljazz Orchestra does what any great band or artist does. They slow it down just a bit with the track “Nijaay” which is a little too fast to be considered slow, but it’s definitely a bit more mellow with a reggae feel to it as well.
I was particularly impressed by “Solidarity” because it’s like taking a trip into so many different worlds at once: The 70s, Latin, reggae, Afro jazz, and many others. There’s a lot of variety and spice here, which always keeps things interesting, particularly when the band really has command of the music, regardless of which style is dominating at the time, and Souljazz Orchestra does that very well. “Solidarity” is one of those albums whose CDs should be eagerly anticipated because it’s, and I guess I’m showing my age here just a bit, “All that and a bag of chips.” These guys are solid.



I used to say that the only good thing about this century’s first decade was the emergence of chipotle into North American cuisine (the smoked pepper itself, not the burrito chain!). But what I’m realizing now is that there was a second spicy treat expanding in the 00s, and that was the changeover we saw in world music, from being so god awful that only Paul Simon and Bobby McFerrin would touch it to being one of the best and most well-established genres going on. Of course, “world music” as a term stinks of imperialism, implying an otherness about the “world” outside of our U.S. borders that makes all nations’ music different from us and similar to each other’s. But it’s hard to know how else to categorize treats such as the Souljazz Orchestra’s Solidarity: this album tackles Afrobeat, reggae, salsa, samba, “semba,” conga, soul, and jazz, and is sung in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and even “Wolof.” To a sheltered white Oklahoman like me, just reading their press release has sent me to Wikipedia about five times, but not so the music, which is identifiable in any language—there’s a sense of strength in each song, but also a driving urge to dance, dance, DANCE! Maybe Mike Watt was un-ironically right to declare “Maybe partying will help?”


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