The Souljazz Orchestra-Under Burning Skies.

Label: Strut Records

When The Souljazz Orchestra was founded in Ottawa, Canada, in 2002 none of its members had any idea where they would or what they would be doing in fifteen years time. They didn’t even know if The Souljazz Orchestra would still be together? The Souljazz Orchestra could’ve been consigned to musical history by 2017. 

Fast forward fifteen years, and The Souljazz Orchestra are still together and are one of the leading lights of the Canadian music scene. They’ve been  nominated for three Juno Awards in their native Canada, and have just released their seventh album Under Burning Skies on Strut Records and have just embarked on their 2017 Autumn Tour. 

Music fans in Britain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Sweden, Switzerland and later Canada will witness The Souljazz Orchestra taking to the stage, and unleashing their inimitable sound. It comes courtesy of blazing horns, vintage keyboards, a myriad of percussion and a pulsating rhythm section that provides The Souljazz Orchestra’s heartbeat. In full flow, The Souljazz Orchestra is an irresistible and impressive sound that has won over music fans across the globe. That has been the case since 2002.

That was when The Souljazz Orchestra was founded in Ottawa, Canada. They spent the next three years honing their and playing live. Then in 2005, The Souljazz Orchestra released their debut album Uprooted on Funk Manchu Records. It featured nine tracks that showcased The Souljazz Orchestra unique potpourri of musical genres and influences.

By 2007, The Souljazz Orchestra had been together five years and were a familiar face on the live scene. They had started playing locally in and around Ottawa, but gradually spread their wings and were playing venues further afield. Soon, The Souljazz Orchestra’s popularity was growing. This was perfect timing, as The Souljazz Orchestra returned with their sophomore album Freedom Must Die in 2007. It was the first of two albums The Souljazz Orchestra would release the Toronto based indie record label Do Right! Music. Freedom Must Die was well received by critics. 

So was their genre-melting third album Manifesto, which was released by Do Right! Music in 2008. Manifesto was captivating and powerful album full of social comment. Critics called Manifesto the finest album of The Souljazz Orchestra’s career. It was also their swan-song for Do Right! Music.

When The Souljazz Orchestra returned with their fourth album Rising Sun in 2010, they had signed to Strut Records, which has been their home ever since. 

Rising Sun featured a different side of The Souljazz Orchestra. It was an acoustic album, which  was something of a stylistic departure for The Souljazz Orchestra. Despite that, Rising Sun found favour with critics who were won over by The Souljazz Orchestra’s new sound. So were the judges of Canada’s most prestigious musical award…the Juno’s. The Souljazz Orchestra were nominated for Instrumental Album of the Year. Alas, it was a case  of so close yet so far.

Two years later, The Souljazz Orchestra returned with their fifth album Solidarity in 2012. It marked another change of direction from The Souljazz Orchestra. Gone was the acoustic style of Rising Sun. Replacing it, was  an electric, vocal driven style. Joining The Souljazz Orchestra were a number of guest artists. They played their part in what was The Souljazz Orchestra’s most eclectic album. Solidarity was a journey through African, Caribbean and Latin music with detours via jazz and soul. The result was an album that had raw lo-fi, analogue sound. It was released to widespread critical acclaim and was a perfect way for The Souljazz Orchestra to celebrate their tenth anniversary.

There were further celebrations when Solidarity was nominated for a Juno Award for the World Music Album of the Year. This was the second time The Souljazz Orchestra had been nominated for a Juno. Sadly, it was another disappointment for the Ottawa based musical collective.

Despite the disappointment of failing to win their first Juno Award, The Souljazz Orchestra continued their musical voyage of discovery. Some of the members of The Souljazz Orchestra went away and worked with some of the most talented musicians in Cuba, Haiti, Nigeria and Rwanda. These master musicians would influence The Souljazz Orchestra’s sixth album Inner Fire.  

When Inner Fire was released in 2014, it was a compelling fusion of musical influences and genres. Inner Fire had been clearly influenced by the master musicians the members of The Souljazz Orchestra worked with. They absorbed musical influences like a sponge, and they played their part in what was a musical melting pot. It was given a stir by The Souljazz Orchestra, and the result was a tantalising and tasty dish that was one of the finest the Ottawa based collective had cooked.

Although The Souljazz Orchestra had just released one of the finest albums in 2014, they were determined not to make the same album twice. Instead, the members of The Souljazz Orchestra were determined to introduce new musical genres and influences as work began on Resistance, Pierre Chrétien explained: “we approached this album with a fresh ear. We were keen to build on the band’s sound and message, so I brought in some of the French Caribbean and Francophone West African influences that I’ve loved since my youth.” 

To do this, Pierre and the rest of The Souljazz Orchestra fused elements Coupé-Décalé, Zouk, and Ndombolo to their usual mixture of Afro-beat, funk, jazz and soul. The result was Resistance, which one minute was full of social comment, the next dance-floor friendly and joyous as The Souljazz Orchestra showcase their impressive and irresistible sound. When Resistance was released in 2015, it was to widespread critical acclaim. Critics hailed Resistance as The Souljazz Orchestra’s finest hour.

When the nominations for the Juno Awards were released in 2016, The Souljazz Orchestra had been nominated for the World Music Album of the Year. Surely, this was The Souljazz Orchestra’s year, as they had released what was regarded as their finest album? Sadly, it was a case of close but no cigar for The Souljazz Orchestra. 

Just over a year after The Souljazz Orchestra lost out on their first ever Juno Award, the Ottawa based collective is back with the much-anticipated seventh album of their fifteen year career, Under Burning Skies. It finds The Souljazz Orchestra continuing to reinvent their sound.

On Under Burning Skies, The Souljazz Orchestra introduce some tropical influences to their music. There’s also the introduction of soul and jazz on Under Burning Skies, as The Souljazz Orchestra continue to push musical boundaries.

To do this, The Souljazz Orchestra unleash their unique and inimitable musical arsenal. As usual, this features braying blazing horns. To this, The Souljazz Orchestra add vintage synths and early eighties drum machines. They add lo-fi disco, boogie and electro influences to Under Burning Skies which has an organic analogue sound. Just like previous album The Souljazz Orchestra’s lyrics are full of social comment. They seem to come into their own and shine during turbulent times. The Souljazz Orchestra’s lyrics on Under Burning Skies certainly pack a lyrical punch. That has been the case throughout their career, and is the case throughout Under Burning Skies.

Opening Under Burning Skies is Dog Eat Dog where The Souljazz Orchestra set their sights on the powerful and corrupt. This they do against a backdrop of hissing hi-hats, shimmering keyboards and soon, blazing horns. Meanwhile, the rhythm section provide the heartbeat to this infectious Afro-disco groove. By now, the song is building and revealing its secrets. When the horns drop out at 2.45, the keyboards briefly set the scene for a rueful vocal. It’s sung in a catchy call and response style, reflecting that: “it’s a Dog Eat Dog world out there.” Joining the soulful vocal and harmonies are a chiming guitar, percussion and keyboards, as the rhythm section drive this seven minute Afro-disco opus along. They play their part in the sound and success of this hook-laden and dance-floor filler.

It’s all change on Lufunki where The Souljazz Orchestra revisit their B-Boy roots. To do this, they combine the unmistakable sound of an early drum machine, futuristic eighties synths, braying horns and the rhythm section. The final piece of the jigsaw is a B-Boy vocal. From there, The Souljazz Orchestra combine electronica, funk, and their B-Boy roots. The combination of the early drum machines and synths with blazing horns proves a potent one. By then, The Souljazz Orchestra is fusing elements of Afrobeat and jazz. Briefly, the horns head in the direction of free jazz, before they continue to combine electronica, funk, and their B-Boy roots. It’s a potent combination that features The Souljazz Orchestra at their most inventive and imaginative.

Is Yeelyel  was written and recorded by the Somalian group Dur-Dur Band. Straight away, The Souljazz Orchestra’s horn and rhythm section inject a degree of urgency before vintage synths and sweet harmonies are added to the mix. Then at 1.26 a blazing saxophone steps forward and takes centre-stage. The rest of The Souljazz Orchestra is reduced to a supporting role, during this virtuoso performance. Before long, The Souljazz Orchestra is reunited and are soon in full flight. Later, squelchy synths are sprayed across the arrangement during a solo. They’re augmented by harmonies, as The Souljazz Orchestra combine electronica, funk and soul. They create a joyous and irresistible call to dance.

Although understated describes the introduction to Oublier Pour Un Jour, it’s soon starts to build and reveal its secrets. What follows is a mid-tempo track where The Souljazz Orchestra’s rhythm and horn sections combine with percussion, banks of keyboard, soulful harmonies and an accordion. It adds to the French Caribbean influence and plays a leading role in parts of the arrangement. Fingers fly up and down the keyboard as another virtuoso performance takes shape. Meanwhile, elements of soul, jazz and funk can be heard as The Souljazz Orchestra hone another carefully crafted and beautiful genre-melting track.

As Under Burning Skies unfolds, the rhythm section and chirping guitar are joined by braying horns on another mid-tempo track. It’s almost languid before the arrangement builds, and a pouring drum signals it’s all change. The tempo rises and takes a few twists and turns before a sultry saxophone emerges from the arrangement. It’s played with power and passion as it scorching sound soars above the arrangement. Soon, the arrangement becomes understated before rebuilding and before long, The Souljazz Orchestra is in full flight. This is an impressive and memorable sound during this ruminative sounding track that invites reflection.

Drums pound and are joined by a vampish vocal as Holla Holla bursts into life. Soon, the bass, scorching horns and vintage synths join keyboards and that vampish vocal. It’s joined by harmonies, as the horns play leading role as the arrangement builds. Percussion interjects before the baton passes to the searing, braying horns and harmonies. Later, squelchy eighties synths add a boogie influence to this irresistible track where the hooks haven’t been spared.

Synths rasp, while and buzz on Adawe Boogie and join percussion, horns and the rhythm section. By then, eighties boogie and funk are combining with jazz. Soon, the horns are playing a lead role in another incredibly catchy and dance-floor friendly instrumental. Later, the synths and the funky rhythm section play their part in the sound and success of Adawe Boogie. It features The Souljazz Orchestra in full flight and putting fifteen years of experience to good use.

There’s a party atmosphere as Sorrow Fly Away unfolds. It sounds as if the party is happening in the studio as the rhythm section and synth unite. Meanwhile, a vampish vocal interjects as boogie synths join the rhythm section, blazing and keyboards. They provide the accompaniment for a rueful, soulful female vocal. A hint of reverb has been added to the vocal, while squelchy synths join growling horns and the rhythm section who anchor the arrangement. Later, a flute replaces the vocal and briefly enjoys its moment in the sun as the arrangement sashays along. This continues when the vocal returns, and this joyous, uplifting song reveals the rest of its secrets.

The Souljazz Orchestra revisits French Caribbean music on Tambou À Deux Peaux. Blazing horns enter before the rhythm section  interject, and the arrangement pauses. This happens twice before the mid-tempo arrangement unfolds. Meanwhile, the vocal is sung in a call and response style, while horns bray and blaze as the arrangement swings. Providing the heartbeat is drums which are augmented by percussion and a drum machine that clicks and cracks. It has a  dubby sound, as if reverb has been added. However, it’s true horns that again, play a leading role in The Souljazz Orchestra’s inimitable and chameleon like sound. Not content to reinvent themselves from album to album, they reinvent themselves from track to track and show another side to their music.

Closing Under Burning Skies is Aduna Jarul Naawo which features vocalist Élage Mbaye. Their vocal is joined by bursts of quivering guitar, thunderous bass drum and percussion. Meanwhile, a guitar meanders across the arrangement as horns bray and blaze. When they drop out, this leave room for an impassioned vocal and harmonies. Soon, the horns return and later, a sultry saxophone accompanies a heartfelt vocal. Briefly the saxophone drops out, but returns and joins with the harmonies, drum, percussion and guitar. Together, they create a beautiful, soulful and soul-baring ballad then ensures the Under Burning Skies closes on a high.

The Souljazz Orchestra is like a fine wine and improves with age. They celebrate their fifteenth anniversary with the release of their seventh album Under Burning Skies on Strut Records, It’s without doubt the finest album of The Souljazz Orchestra’s career. This is something that has been said before. However, with every album the Ottawa based musical collective reach new heights.

What makes the rise and rise of The Souljazz Orchestra even more remarkable is their decision to eschew the latest musical equipment, and instead, use an eclectic selection of instruments. Many of these are instruments are long-lost, sometimes unloved junk shop finds. This doesn’t matter, as The Souljazz Orchestra is capable of creating incredible music with these instruments. That is the case on Under Burning Skies.

Hooks haven’t been spared during Under Burning Skies, where the music veers between beautiful, joyous and uplifting to ruminative and thoughtful right through to funky, soulful and dance-floor friendly. Many of the tracks are irresistible, and the listener is hooked from the opening bars. That is the case throughout The Souljazz Orchestra’s latest musical adventure.

On Under Burning Skies, The Souljazz Orchestra combine elements of Afrobeat, boogie, French Caribbean, disco,  electronica, funk and jazz. This is a potent, heady and irresistible brew that the listener will drink deep, and enjoy the tantalising taste of, when they discover the delights of The Souljazz Orchestra’s latest musical tour de force…Under Burning Skies.

The Souljazz Orchestra-Under Burning Skies.

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