The Souljazz Orchestra: Inner Fire

Photo: Alexandre Mattar

Eclectic, showing an appealing musical restlessness, Inner Fire is both enjoyable and exceptional.

The Souljazz Orchestra

Inner Fire

Label: Strut
US Release Date: 2014-02-25
UK Release Date: 2014-02-24

“Resolved, spirited, and unbreakable”. Those three adjectives describe what personally comes to mind from a title like Inner Fire. In other words, each individual possesses his or her own "fire" inside. Whether or not this was the vision of Pierre Chrétien and the Souljazz Orchestra behind Inner Fire is of minimal importance. What is important and notable is that Souljazz Orchestra deliver a truly genre-bending, international music juggernaut in Inner Fire. It encompasses touches of soul, Latin, Afro, and of course jazz, among others. Brief yet loaded, Inner Fire resides among the elite albums regardless of stylistic labels in 2014.

“Initiation” opens Inner Fire, exemplifying its introductory title. Moody and possessing a mysterious darkness, it establishes the tone of the LP. After an unstable beginning, balance settles in through the statement of the melody. Maintaining a minor key, first full-length cut “Kingdom Come” continues to exhibit moodiness, though it does so with an electrifying groove and alluring sounds. Brief but excellent solos courtesy of baritone sax (Ray Murray), trumpet (Ed Lister), and vibes (Chrétien) show top-notch musicianship, while the recurring piano/vibes riff is nothing short of addictive. The brevity of “Kingdom Come” both packs a punch and feels just right in length. The Latin-soul groove of “One Life to Live” definitely highlights the cut. An electrifying flute solo (Zakari Frantz) doesn’t hurt the cause either, definitely part of the Latin-jazz idiom. The vocals -- simple iterations of “one life to live” -- are reggae-oriented, truly flaunting the eclectic, international vibe of Souljazz Orchestra.

“As the Crow Flies” opens mysteriously, initiated by the vibes, followed by intensification provided from the cymbals on the drums. Dark, shifting piano chords further set up the enigma, until upright bass (Philippe Charbonneau) establishes stability with another irresistible groove. Unsurprisingly, after all instruments settle in on the head, “As the Crow Flies” reveals itself as an excellent song for soloing. “Black Orchid” possesses more of the “soul” part of the ensemble’s name. Sounding like the perfect instrumental background for any soul singer, “Black Orchid” easily gets the foot tapping and the head nodding. The orchestrations are brilliant, not to mention the magnificent featured vibe and tenor sax solos. Follow-up cut “Agoya” definitely has a mean bite and sass about it, driven by the infectiousness of its Latin groove. Manic and energetic are perfect adjectives to describe this standout.

“East Flows the River” provides a contrast, taking the tempo down and returning to a moodier sound. Philippe Lafreniére’s drum groove, aided by Marielle Rivard’s percussion as well, is another soulfully leaning cut. The pacing of “East Flows the River” feels natural, never pushing too fast to reach its climax. After taking time to establish itself, Steve Patterson solos yearningly on tenor, giving the horn a human-like voice. Throw in Chrétien mystical harp playing to close out the cut, and “East Flows the River” is another phenomenal spin from the orchestra. “Sommet En Sommet” picks right where “Agoya” left off with its Latin influences, though it does slow the tempo. The pianistic and vibe role in the "rhythmic machine" of the groove definitely stand out as notable instrumental features. The rhythmic pianistic role is also expanded, later delivering a slick solo as well as increasing the punch of the overall accompaniment.

Penultimate cut “Celestial Blues”, penned by Andy Bey, kicks off with bassist Charbonneau receiving one of his few features. Charbonneau ends up setting up another awesome soul groove, but not before it sounds as if he’s going to "pick the bass apart", given his aggressive pizzicato. The Souljazz Orchestra get an assist from percussionist Rivard, who provides lead vocals. Inner Fire closes solidly with outro “Completion”. Slow and reflective, “Completion”, much like “Initiation”, exemplifies its title musically.

Ultimately, Inner Fire is a sensational album from the Canadian-based ensemble. Showing an appealing musical restlessness, Inner Fire is both enjoyable and exceptional. Just missing the 40-minute mark in duration, the album’s brevity proves to be one of its best attributes. With substance and redeeming qualities lying within all 10 tracks (including the briefest in both “Initiation” and “Completion”), only the most hardcore nitpicker can find much wrong.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.