Back in 2012, The Souljazz Orchestra celebrated their tenth anniversary with the release of their fifth album Solidarity. Less than two later, The Souljazz Orchestra will release their sixth album inner Fire on 24th February 2014. Just like their previous albums, Inner Fire is a compelling fusion of musical influences and genres. That’s no surprise. 

The Souljazz Orchestra absorb influences like a sponge. This is apparent on Inner Fire, and there’s a reason for this. Since the release of Solidarity, The Souljazz Orchestra have continued their musical voyage of discovery. Members of The Souljazz Orchestra have worked with some of the most talented musicians in Cuba, Haiti, Nigeria and Rwanda. These master musicians have influenced The Souljazz Orchestra. Their influence can be heard on the ten tracks that comprise Inner Fire. Add to this Afro-beat, Egyptian jazz, Latin and spiritual music. This results in a musical melting pot. Once it’s given a stir by The Souljazz Orchestra. it’s a tantalising tasting dish, best tasted often. before I tell you about Inner Fire, I’ll tell you about the background to the album.

Inner Fire features ten tracks nine of which were written by The Souljazz Orchestra. Celestial Bluese is the exception. It was written by Gary Bartz. The tracks were recorded at The Souljazz Orchestra’s studio in Ottawa. This is no ordinary studio. No. It’s an analogue studio full of what’s described as an eclectic selection of instruments. Many of these are instruments are long lost, sometimes unloved junk shop finds. A transistor organ, cheap guitars, reverb and echo units, an electric piano rescued from a dumpster and the crowning glory, an old eight-track Tascam tape machine, that was bought at a yard sale by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Incredibly, the ten tracks on Inner Fire were recorded on this old eight-track Tascam, which is described by The Souljazz Orchestra as temperamental. This gives Solidarity a really raw lo-fi, analogue sound. At their Ottawa studio, the familiar lineup of The Souljazz Orchestra got to work.

This included keyboardist Pierre Chretien, tenor saxophonist Steve Patterson, baritone saxophonist Ray Murray and drummer and conguero Philippe Lafreniere. Zakari Frantz plays flute and alto saxophone and Marielle Rivard percussion. That’s the personnel that played on The Souljazz Orchestra’s forthcoming album Inner Fire, which I’ll now tell you about.

Initiation which opens Inner Fire is best described as a curveball. It’s a tantalising taste of what The Souljazz Orchestra are capable of. Braying, blazing, sultry horns combine and reach a dramatic crescendo. Then after seventy-five seconds the track is over. Dramatic, emotive and evocative describes this cinematic sounding track. 

A piano opens Kingdom Come before a glorious melange of growling horns, pounding drums and percussion combine. It’s an irresistible call to dance. What follows is a delicious example of Afro-beat. Other influences include the North African big bands, jazz and New Orleans’ R&B. The arrangement flows along joyously, with pregnant pauses, thunderous drums and vibes adding to the drama of this melodic stomper.

One Life To Live is a track with an important message, seize the day. We’re only here for a visit, so enjoy yourself. The Souljazz Orchestra do just that. Drawing inspiration from highlife, rasping horns, percussion, driving guitar and drums join forces. Soon, a flute solo helps drive the arrangement along. It’s then replaced by joyful vocal who remind you you’ve only: “One Life To Live.” As they do this, a searing saxophone solo cuts through the arrangement. Accompanied by the horns, percussion and drums the track becomes a celebration of life. Then when a vocal warns: “tomorrow may be your last,” this comes as a wakeup call. Variously, haunting, celebratory and joyous, The Souljazz Orchestra are at their very best as they remind us we’ve: “One Life To Live.”

As The Crow Flies sees a change in style to bossa nova. This allows The Souljazz Orchestra to showcase their versatility. With a shuffling beat, horn drive the cinematic arrangement along. Harmonies drift above the arrangement whilst drums, percussion and horns add an element of drama. Then a sultry saxophone solo emerges. It’s played with power, passion and accuracy. The rest of the band feed off this solo. Spurred on, they reach even greater heights, as they take you on another musical journey to a place where the music is glorious and irresistible.

Black Orchid has a pensive, thoughtful sound. Just vibes, piano and bas combine, before growling horns join in. Still the track has a wistful sound. However, it’s also melancholy. That’s the best way to describe this wistful and beautiful slice of soul-jazz, where The Souljazz Orchestra showcase their ability to seamlessly, flit between musical genres. That’s not easy and demonstrates just how talented they are.

You sense that Agoya is about to burst into life. It does. What follows is an explosive and irresistible slice of salsa. A fusion of braying horns, percussion, drums and bursts of vocals combine. Then a flute escapes from the arrangement, while a rasping saxophone helps drive the arrangement along. By then, you’ll have realised it’s impossible to keep still. It’s as if The Souljazz Orchestra are taunting you, saying dance. The only option is to submit to its charms and dance like you’ve never danced before.

East Flows The River is described as a ritual chant. Harmonies float above the arrangement while the rhythm section and percussion provide the track’s heartbeat. This results in a hypnotic, mesmeric and spiritual sound. It’s irresistible. It envelops you, and quickly, wins you over. Then things get even better when a saxophone solo is unleashes. It’s akin to a cathartic cleansing of a the soul and is the finishing touch to what’s the highlight of Inner Fire.

Sommet En Sommet is an Afro jazz track where the time signature changes. Rather than the usual 4/4, the time signature is 12/8. Again this shows that The Souljazz Orchestra are versatile and talented musicians. They’re just as comfortable playing in 12/8 as 4/4. What follows is four minutes of musical magic. Dramatic and jaunty describes the start of the arrangement. Then braying horns, percussion and the rhythm section join forces. They create a broody, dramatic backdrop. Adding to the drama and beauty is a heart-achingly beautiful alto saxophone solo. It gives way to a piano, while the rest of the band combine drama, emotion and beauty.

Celestial Blues is a track many people will be familiar with. Its the title-track from Gary Bartz’s 1971 album. Here, percussion Marielle Rivard steps forward and sings lead vocal. Her jazz tinged vocal suits the song. Horns answer her call, while the drums and piano provide the backdrop. Jazz tinged describes the piano and horns, while the drums are hypnotic. When all this is combined, The Souljazz Orchestra pay homage to Gary Bartz with a blistering version of Celestial Blues.

Closing Inner Fire is Completion. It’s just a short track that bookends the album. Vibes, piano, standup bass and drums played with brushes combine to create a wistful, melancholy track. This bookends Inner Fire perfectly, closing the album as it began.

Without a doubt, Inner Fire is the best album The Souljazz Orchestra have ever released. I’ll go even further than that. Inner Fire which will be released on 24th February 2014 will be one of the best albums of 2014. That’s how good Inner Fire is. It’s The Souljazz Orchestra’s Magnus Opus. They’ve come of age. Everything that’s gone before has been leading up to this moment. 

During the last twelve years, The Souljazz Orchestra have come a long way, with their compelling fusion of musical influences and genres. Having released their debut album Uprooted in 2005, three further albums were released in the next five years. Freedom Must Die was released in 2007, with Manifesto following in 2008 and Rising Sun in 2010. For their fifth album, The Souljazz Orchestra have changed direction from the acoustic style of Rising Sun to an electric, vocal driven style on Solidarity. Then after a gruelling touring schedule, The Souljazz Orchestra returned to their beloved analogue studio in Ottawa and recorded Inner Fire.

Inner Fire should be the album that sees The Souljazz Orchestra music reach a much wider audience. They’re guaranteed to get any party started. No wonder. With its fusion of Afro-beat, Afro-jazz, bossa nova, Egyptian jazz, funk, jazz, Latin, samba and soul jazz Inner Life is The Souljazz Orchestra’s finest moment. It’s variously celebratory, irresistible, joyous, melancholy, melodic, pensive, thoughtful and wistful. Just like previous Souljazz Orchestra albums, Inner Fire is akin to a journey on a musical roller coaster.

Having climbed onboard The Souljazz Orchestra’s musical roller coaster, they introduce you to music that’s celebratory, joyous and irresistibly catchy. Other times, it’s melancholy, wistful and spiritual. Always, the music on Inner Fire is a reflection of the music that’s influenced The Souljazz Orchestra. 

Since their last album Solidarity, members of The Souljazz Orchestra have been lucky enough to work with some of the most talented musicians in Cuba, Haiti, Nigeria and Rwanda. These master musicians have influenced The Souljazz Orchestra. Their influence can be heard on the ten tracks that comprise Inner Fire. They’ve played their part in what’s essentially a musical melting pot of influences and genres. Once it’s given a stir by The Souljazz Orchestra, Inner Fire is a tantalising tasting dish, best tasted often. Standout Tracks: Kingdom Come, One Life To Live, Black Orchid and Sommet En Sommet.


Inner Fire

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