February 16, 2010

V4YS Ep/Album Review - The Souljazz Orchestra - Rising Sun (Strut Records)

The Souljazz Orchestra is an Ottawa-based, 6-member afrobeat/afro-jazz & funk band.
We mentionned them in our recent musical selection dedicated to the "new" afrobeat scene and described them as one of the flagship of this galaxy currently bustling with activity.

Created in 2002, the combo released in 2005 a first confidential instrumental album mixing afro-jazz & funk called "Uprooted". They really started to emerge with the 2007 "Freedom No Go Die" Lp that was more specifically afrobeat oriented, mixing socially-conscious lyrics with several killer grooves. The year after, in 2008, "Manifesto" revisited their afro-jazz/funk side with the same sucess.
In 2009 they moved from their canadian label "Do Right!" to the acclaimed Strut Records to produce their ambitious 4th LP called "Rising Sun".
This record is a brand new step in the band's career. Leaving (temporarily?) aside their afrobeat/afrofunk sound they brilliantly enter the "spiritual jazz" scene.
The album contains 9 tracks, almost all instrumental. In fact I would describe 3 of them as being at the frontier between afrobeat and afro-jazz ("Agbara", "Negus Negast" & "Mamaya") , and the others as more purely "spiritual jazz".
I could not help thinking of the great californian collective "Build An Ark" while listening to the jazz-part this record. Pharoah Sanders also inevitably came to mind, even more so at the end of the album as the band did a remarkable cover of Pharoah's beautiful "Rejoice" track (1981).

To me the variety of instruments used, the quality of the production, its creativity and coherence certainly make of "Rising Sun" the orchestra's most accomplished production so far.

True it is not "dancefloor-oriented" as were some of their earlier works so it requires a bit more effort to get into it but any afro&spiritual jazz lover should be impressed.
My only minor disapointment is the fact that I found most tracks a bit too short. I wish at least some of them could have been extented in the "Pharoah Sander's way" to go on with this particular reference. But I'm sure they will answer that request during the upcoming tour!
I'm therefore really looking forward to see them live next spring in Europe.
All the tour dates are on their site.

Below the promo video of "Agbara", that is actually the more "afrobeat" oriented track of the album so not necessarily the one that best represents its overall spiritual jazz sound. Good track though!

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