Soul Jazz Orchestra ‘Rising Sun’ (Strut) 3/5

Canadian group the Soul Jazz Orchestra were formed in 2002 and have been influenced by a heady mixture of Afro, jazz, soul and Latin sounds with Fela Kuti, Mulatu Astatke and the McCoy Tyner big band obvious namechecks. Two previous albums were recorded for the Toronto label Do Right!, but this is their first for Strut with DJ Gilles Peterson a big devotee. The band work best on the big band numbers which display a Latin sensitivity such as ‘Serenity’. Here we find the more reflective side to the group with flute and clarinet solos featuring heavily. Likewise ‘Lotus flower’ impresses with its big band arrangements, modal bass and funky drumming. This is where the Soul Jazz Orchestra identity truly lies and perhaps a whole album in this particular vein would be a potential future project that might introduce them to a whole new audience, especially one specialising in jazz. Otherwise there is some manic Afro-jazz on ‘Mamaya’ that works quite well and some less successful Ethio-jazz on ‘Negus negast’. They simply sound too polished to carry off the gritty sound of jazz Ethiopian style. A more natural environment is that of spiritual jazz and the excellent Japanese koto intro to ‘Consecration’ leads into a wonderful mid-tempo groove with fine ensemble work by the brass section. The Pharoah Sanders club classic ‘Rejoice’ in two parts is given a decent reworking and after an introspective intro gives way to an Afro-beat treatment that departs from the original before finally settling into a jazzy interpretation with less emphasis on vibes than in the original. An evocative cover picture depicts an ancient sundial in gold and orange.

Tim Stenhouse