Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra have this West African funk template down pat and expand on it with jazz, blues and Latin styles all up in the mix. The six piece band — frontman/composer Pierre Chrétien on keys, Marielle Rivard on percussion/vocals, Philippe Lafrenière on drums, and Ray Murray, Steve Patterson and Zakari Frantz on brass — sound double that once they get things rolling.
Cuts from latest album Inner Fire were the highlights of the night, as Rivard's smooth vocals on "Celestial Blues," the call-and-response friendly "Agoya" and the hypnotic "One Life to Live" particularly stood out. It proved that while Inner Fire is indeed a solid project, the live concert experience is how the songs are truly meant to be experienced. The Garrison's sound system supported the band solidly on this night.
It was a rather late-night two-part set with the decision to have a 25-30 minute intermission in between. With the laid-back Chrétien coordinating things behind keys, each member possesses unique charisma, with the energetic Frantz on alto sax and Murray on vocals keeping the crowd participation angle going in particular. Currently on the Strut label, the sextet also dipped into their earlier Toronto-based Do Right Records discography (think early albums like Manifesto and Freedom No Go Die) for good measure.
"Have Afrobeat, will travel," seems to be the evergreen motto for the Souljazz Orchestra, and it's a perspective that they wear on their collective sleeves. "Thanks for supporting us hardcore," noted Murray during the set. "We encourage you to dance."
Throughout it all, there was an innocent earnestness and an elevated energy about it that got everybody smiling while they caught themselves vibing to the groove.