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The Souljazz Orchestra: Inner Fire
While musicologists have tried time and time again to hypothesise the reasons as to why humans make music, their research has only brought with it vague and inconclusive results. Some argue its part of humanity's drive to appreciate beauty, while others will delve deeper and insist that it is a subconscious necessity to create organised sound. While it rarely happens, there are artists that create music so powerful that academic discussions are temporarily halted.
The Souljazz Orchestra is a six piece band of multi instrumentalists hailing from Ottawa, Canada. Sitting on the keys and guitars, amongst other instruments, Pierre Chrétien is deemed the group's leader and chief composer.
Under his direction, the orchestra present a fine blend of musical genres; from Afro-Cuban, Latin and Caribbean to West Coast hip-hop, these guys have proven repeatedly that they are the masters of pushing genres to unexplored aural depths. Their music is a mesh of catchy wind hooks, punchy percussions and the most daring of solos.
Their latest studio release, Inner Fire, features mellow opening and closing tracks – 'Initiation' and 'Completion' respectively; the rest of the compositions, as the album's title suggests, are a fiery mix of music, with the power to get even the most reserved listener up and jumping.
The drums hip-hop beat on 'Black Orchid' keeps time for a warm arrangement of horns, vibraphone and keys that perfectly recreates the sound of the African American's expression of urban life; laid back and breezy, with an undertone of a melancholy struggles.
The same style appears again on 'Celestial Blues', although the latter features more singing and saxophone work. Interestingly, the horn section plays in unison with Marielle Rivard's vocals in the majority of the song.
'Kingdom Come' boasts the band's inspiration from Ethiopian music, particularly of Ethiopian jazz musician, Mulatu Astaqe. While the horns play the main theme with a Mexican Mariachi sound, the baritone saxophone can be easily be mistaken for a clarinet as it plays its East African solo, while the occasional pluck of the harp gives the track a random hint of the orient. The music possesses a unique capability to be both uplifting and yet haunting at the same time, as if one is approaching a tamed, but dangerous, animal.
Drifting to the South American region, 'Agoya' is a Samba driven party tune with a funky pentatonic hook and cheeky brass solos. The most fun part of the song is the spoken Spanish, yelled on top of the piano's repetitive Salsa riff. Production wise, the song is a great example of the typical sound that the Souljazz Orchestra have spent years refining; recorded with analogue equipment and featuring a strong emphasis on the sound of deeper horns.
Inner Fire is nothing less than a melting pot of border-breaking, passionate musicality. While the Souljazz Orchestra resists notions of classification, we'll claim their style as some of the greatest World Music available to your ears today.
It is next to impossible to define the sound of the Dirty Projectors. As soon as one tries to put their finger on any sort of genre or sound, it will have already transformed itself - either sonically or lyrically – into something else entirely.
For David Longstreth, the songwriting genius behind
the Dirty Projectors, combining filthy lyrical imagery, Mariah Carey vocals, a
classical brass section, indie rock ethics, minimal techno, Wizard of Oz duets,
and hip-hop beats, is a seemingly effortless task.
Over the past decade, Longstreth has released over ten LPs and EPs, all which prove that his band is everything that Dave Matthews Band and the Magnetic Fields try to be – witty, daring, intelligent, honest, weird; in other words, different. Swing Lo Magellan, maintains that tradition, though in a somewhat more welcomed and accessible way.
However, Swing Lo is still bizarrely weird.
While for the first time the majority of songs are built around verse/chorus
song structures - and it feels as if Longstreth has tried to keep his
experimentation bound to structure - every song still sounds like a musical
experiment in itself.
The Dirty Projectors are a band of six who are more or less based in Brooklyn, New York. However, in ten years the band has easily gone through twenty members, and a rotating cast – Longstreth aside – simply seems to be part of the essence of this band.
It’s difficult to define what each band member specifically does because there’s no formula, and so individual roles often change with each song. There is a huge variety of sounds – clapping, duets, guitar riffs, eastern and western beats, digital effects – captured and produced using both hi-fi and lo-fi means. Dirty Projectors have collaborated with both Icelandic singer Björk, and new wave hero David Byrne of the Talking Heads, which hints at the diversity of their styles and tastes.
The off kilter, catchy pop track ‘About to Die,’
evokes a weird, sort of dyslexic Maroon 5-type groove, whilst Longstreth
lyrically ponders: “How can I hope to seize the tablet of values and redact it?
Foolish, I know, but I’m about to die”, that is, unless he’s “already dead”.
The opening track ‘Offspring are Blank,’ plays with the idea of species propagation, of fertile parents giving birth to blank children. However, it’s delivered over hip-hop beats, r&b vocals and pop-punk rock choruses.
There are also beautiful, guitar pop songs, such as title track ‘Swing Lo Magellan,’ which combines acoustic guitar, beautiful playful imagery, and a sense of wonder and adventure. But even with this simple song, the production sneakily bombards the listener with two tracks simultaneously. If listened to with headphones, one finds that that the right speaker is delivering an acoustic, beat-less ballad, and the left speaker is a bluesy, drum and bass groove; when combined, the magic is delivered.
However, just when one begins to grasp what this
album is all about, the punkish, dark, Pink Floyd-ish track ‘Maybe that was It’
comes as an exploration of what it would lyrically and sonically sound like to
come off LSD – confused and disoriented.
It is almost futile picking tracks off of this
record, as they’re all beautiful and unique in their own way. The current
single is ‘Gun Has No Trigger,’ but whatever the listener’s taste, there is
definitely something, somewhere on this record for everybody.
The name Swing Lo Magellan is a likely reference to renowned explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s daring voyage under South America, where he ‘swang lo’, becoming the first person to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In a way, that is exactly what it sounds like Longstreth is doing with this album: creating groundbreaking connections where most believed they would and could never be made. Swing Lo Longstreth, Swing Lo.