THE SOULJAZZ ORCHESTRA at the Garrison, Friday, March 7. Rating: NNN
Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra have earned a big Toronto fan base over the years, so when the Garrison doors opened at 10:30 pm, before the first of their two-set show, enough bodies spilled in to fill the room.
The band consists of Pierre Chrétien (keys), Marielle Rivard (percussion and vocals), jubilant bandleader Ray Murray (baritone sax), Philippe Lafrenière (drums), Steve Patterson (tenor sax) and Zakari Frantz (alto sax). But they all employ a variety of percussive instruments - reco-reco, maracas, cabasa - keeping them constantly on their toes and high-energy, and maintaining a strong world vibe in this orchestra's soul and jazz sounds.
After opening with a handful of songs from their latest release, Inner Fire - the highlight definitely being the salsa singalong Agoya - the band went on to showcase old favourites like People, People and cover a couple of legends, including Fela Kuti.
While most of their tunes don't centre around vocals, each member sings throughout the show. And if this band is lacking anything, it's a vocalist who really packs a wallop.
But then, perfection wouldn't suit them. There's a loose free-spiritedness that jives well with their tight musicianship; and Afro-beats, funk steeze and latin rhythms seem to flow naturally from within them. (Maybe nine and a half years of touring has something to do with it.)
They encored with a genre-mashing medley that included snippets of DJ Kool, James Brown and Sir Mix-A-Lot. Yes, it seems they can pull off almost anything.