01 February 2010

Monday's mp3: The AFRO Souljazz Orchestra

CD REVIEW
Souljazz Orchestra: Rising Sun (Strut)

I have to admit a dismissive attitude toward this album when it arrived in my mailbox. I expected perhaps some faux-retro 1970s soul tracks, perhaps with a James Brown cover tossed in for good measure. I mean, these guys are from Ottawa, for heaven's sake, not a particular hub of funkiness in my experience. But I popped it in, and the lethargic horns of the 3-minute opening track "Awakening" did little to shift my position. But then, oh then my friends, then the fun starts. "Agbara" kicks in with a percussive shout and a blast of Afrobeat-style horns. And suddenly the album has my interest, particularly with the unusual contribution of marimbas in the heavy mix. Sweet!

The third track takes another turn, starting as a heavy dirge before whipping into a killer version of Ethiopian jazz (inspired by Strut label-mate Mulatu Astatke, who I'm told has a new album coming soon). Again the marimbas play a key role, giving the song an otherworldly Ethio-gamelan feel. A few of the tracks --  "Lotus Flower," "Serenity," "Consecration" --are more what I was expecting from the orchestra's name -- particularly the "jazz" part. But the African influence re-emerges on "Mamaya," which the band says is based on traditional rhythms from Guinea. For my money, the three Afro tracks are worth the price of admission, and the quieter songs give a nice breather from their frenetic energy.

[mp3]: The Souljazz Orchestra: Negus Negast
from Rising Sun

I was curious enough about the band to track down their previous album Manifesto and found that it's even more heavily Afro-centric. The band tours during 2010, and I'm guessing they put on one killer show, so keep an eye out on your local venues. 

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