Album Review: Inner Fire by The Souljazz Orchestra
Very Good, Based on 7 Critics
PopMatters - 80 Based on rating 8/10
“Resolved, spirited, and unbreakable”. Those three adjectives describe what personally comes to mind from a title like Inner Fire. In other words, each individual possesses his or her own “fire” inside. Whether or not this was the vision of Pierre Chrétien and the Souljazz Orchestra behind Inner Fire is of minimal importance.
On 2012's Solidarity, Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra collaborated with a host of singers from various traditions. The end result was a melodic, groove-laden expansion of the band's global vision. Inner Fire was recorded in analog and co-produced by bandleader, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Pierre Chrétien and Jason Jakunas. It is easily the group's most diverse outing, and also its most relaxed, but that doesn't mean lazy.
No matter how you want to define their sound, there's no doubt that Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra has an uncanny ability to seamlessly blend Afrobeat, jazz, Latin, highlife, tropical and hip-hop into a unique and identifiable entity of uncut groove guaranteed to get you on the dance floor. The ensemble's sixth effort, Inner Fire, is a more subdued affair than 2012's Solidarity, but it sustains that album's vibe of analog goodness, not to mention the Orchestra's inspired eclecticism.Opener "Kingdom Come" marries alluring Ethiopian jazz with vigorous Latin horn charts. "As the Crow Flies" is a moody detour into bossa-nova, while "Black Orchid" is a mellow, picturesque slice of jazz funk.
In the mid-2000s, Souljazz Orchestra emerged playing West African funk and highlife rife with propulsive horn hooks, blown-out keyboards, and call-and-response refrains full of political fervor. On Inner Fire, the Ottawa collective sounds different. The program is once again curated by composer and bandleader Pierre Chrétien, who brings a crate-digger’s thirst for obscure and offbeat musical idioms.
Canadian collective The Souljazz Orchestra have been peddling their mystical brand of aural exotica for nigh-on 10 years now. This latest album, their sixth, continues to develop their trademark multicultural mélange, with afrobeat and Latin grooves blending seamlessly into funk, Ethio and spiritual jazz. Given the remoteness of Canada from much of the source material both culturally and geographically, it’s testament to the fastidiousness and consummate musicianship of the band that this patchwork of global music never descends into pastiche.
The members of Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra are musical nomads. Weaving together Latin sounds, Caribbean rhythms, Afro beats and Coltrane-inspired jazz, the six-piece are known for their musical mosaic (as opposed to melting pot). Producers Pierre Chrétien (band member and Inner Fire's composer) and Jason Jaknunas cast the band's sixth full-length in that mould, albeit with its own story arc.
Driving through Ottawa, the Canadian capital from which six-piece collective The Souljazz Orchestra hail, you may be struck by, well, nothing. It's a famously boring city. Replete with federal buildings, anonymous office blocks and identikit universities, Ottawa is all too measured, sensible and sanitised. In one sense, then, The Souljazz Orchestra can be seen as rallying against their home town's monotony.