Photo: Jean-Claude Batista

The Souljazz Orchestra: Resistance

This is Souljazz-lite.
The Souljazz Orchestra

We are not in a time devoid of slogans. Those of us in the States are in the middle of an election cycle; you can’t go three clicks without be bombarded by political opinions expounded by that one racist you had in English III your junior year. Outside of Jason Isbell’s musings on class with Something More Than Free most of the political musings in music this year have been made by rappers, from Vince Staples’ nit-grit details of street life to, well, everything on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. So maybe it’s the right time to have another genre step up to the plate. Canadian jazz group the Souljazz Orchestra has never been a band to shy away from radical politics (see 2006’s “Mista President”) and they jump right back into the fray with Resistance except it’s less of a “Yes We Can” and more in line with Dan Quayle’s troubles with spelling.

It should be noted that Souljazz’s discography is deep and well curated. They’ve got fantastic chops, landing somewhere between the Spaghetti Western badassery of the Budos Band and the acid tinged work of Melt Yourself Down. So what changed here? Bandleader Pierre Chrétien, before the album’s release, revealed “this is actually our first all vocal album, a big step forward for us”. The first part of that statement is true, but the second is a bit shaky. Souljazz is a brilliant instrumental band, and suddenly splashing vocals all over the music diminishes the power of the horn section. Where blasting saxophones were once the center of attention, now stand caterwauling performances that range from inoffensive to cringe worthy.

The groan causing moments are easy enough to rattle off as they dominate the album. The sweet vocals on “As the World Turns” go sour as the phrase “world keeps turning” is repeated to a nauseating degree, the faux-bluey delivery of “Life Is What You Make It” is even more stupidly-sappy than the title, and the constantly barking vocals on “Ware Wa” distract from a delightful horn line. Worst of all is the scat-disaster of “Shock and Awe”. Souljazz have convinced themselves that rapidly spat vocals can be their own instrument deserving of a solo; to put it simply, it goes poorly.

The vocals were presumably added to force more political and emotional impact into the album, but it’s all pointless sloganeering, stuff you would find on motivational posters in dentist offices. It’s about as radical or thought provoking as your stoner roommate’s Che t-shirt. Even more insidious, and harder to pin down, is what the infection of vocals does to the once lively instrumentation of Souljazz’s work. Once upon a time it was all fiery solos, they didn’t need vocals to tell you they were pissed off, the rumbling drums and electric horns told you all you needed to know. Here, every piece of music not connected to the human voice is diluted to a nearly unrecognizable form. This is politics at its most basic and a version of a once mighty band that can only be called Souljazz-lite.

RATING 3 / 10
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