REVIEW: The Souljazz Orchestra – Rising Sun

By Jessica

Spiritual intonations, vintage Afrobeat rhythms, American and Ethio-jazz renditions and homage to the founders adorn The Souljazz Orchestra’s fourth full-length album “Rising Sun.”

The album opens with a soft jazzy purr from the piano keys and Coltrane-esque meanderings on the horn in “Awakening”, then abruptly transitions into incantations, a blaring horn section and brisk drum circle beats in “Agbara.” “Negus Negast” rises from the foam with a battle cry, thick with a variety of textures, at times reminiscent of Ethio-jazz marvel Mulatu Astatke and augmented with a slight flicker of funk. “Lotus Flower” takes it down a notch, retreating into a mid-tempo 1950s-60s American soul-jazz theme bolstered by fleeting horns and keys. “Mayama” builds up the rhythm intermittently with a gamut of transcontinental sounds and a nod to Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti. The previously downplayed wind instruments take the limelight in “Serenity,” which sinks into a whimsical air with high and low points. “Consecration” dives into perhaps the most spiritual territory of the album, with experimental Afrobeat solos and triads of modal jazz arrangements.

“Rejoice” completes the album. The tribute cover to Pharoah Sanders marks, in summary, what the album tries to achieve as a whole, honoring the greats while paying thanks to the divine.

The album marks a development in the hybrid-breeding of jazz and Afrobeat symphonies, and should be appreciated, not as a stand-alone piece of work, but as a complex and abstract arrangement that draws from and flatters a broad and specific array of legendary influences. Judging by the album and song titles, mapping a spiritual quest through the jazz and Afrobeat catalogue was at least partly the intent of this album, and in that respect, The Souljazz Orchestra succeeds. In terms of innovation, however, the album does not quite muster the strength to open a new chapter.