Soul Jazz Orchestra ‘Inner Fire’ (Strut) 4/5

Soul Jazz OrchestraFollowing on from 2010’s ‘Rising Sun’ which had a strong Afro-Jazz feel to it, Canadian group the Soul Jazz Orchestra return to Strut with an album that is wider ranging in musical influences, taking in this time Brazilian and Cuban flavours, highlife and even gospel voicings which recall some of the late 1960s recordings on Cadet. Punchy unison horns, heavyweight percussion and the selective use of vocals make for some compelling listening. One of the strongest tracks is ‘As the crow flies’ which has something of a Cal Tjader feel in its flowing Latin groove while for even more pulsating percussion the 12/8 time ‘Sommet en sommet’ fits the bill admirably. Afro-influenced horns and Latin rhythms come together on the dance-floor winner ‘Agoya’ which has a lovely Latin-tinged piano vamp. For a departure from the rest of the set, the slower tempo ‘Black Orchid’ is still richly melodic with fine unison brass and the influence of Bobby Hutcherson discernible in the inclusion of a vibes solo along with some excellent tenor saxophone and flute work. For fans of the previous album who appreciated the Ethio-jazz phrasings, they are still present on the opening number ‘Kingdom Come’. A cover of Gary Bartz’s ‘Celestial Blues’ features a heavy bass line with slow build up funk groove and female lead vocals. All in all, a strong return to action for Pierre Chrétien and the band. The Soul Jazz Orchestra are touring Canada this month and hopefully a European tour will not be too long off. Tim Stenhouse