The Souljazz Orchestra brings it all to the table

The Ottawa Afro-Funk-Jazz ensemble is bringing their rhythms to the Triple Rock.

by Dylan Hester

The Souljazz Orchestra with Brass Messengers and Peregrine Perspective

When: 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 25

Where: Triple Rock Social Club, 629 Cedar Ave.

Cost: $10

Over the course of the past 10 years, The Souljazz Orchestra has steadily built an impressive recording catalogue. What started out as a musical project between friends has become an internationally touring powerhouse that is set to hit Minneapolis on Saturday night.

Formed in 2002, the sextet hails from Ottawa, Canada. With four full-length LPs and a handful of contributions to compilations and remix projects, Souljazz is clearly one of the leaders of modern-day jazz-funk.

But even that is a narrow statement.

“If you take a listen to a few of our compositions, you might notice that there’s a bit of a broader scope going on,” said Pierre Chrétien, who plays keyboards and percussion in the group. “I see it more as a mix of jazz, soul, Afro, Latin and Caribbean styles.”

The music of the The Souljazz Orchestra is often referred to as Afrobeat: a style of groovy, poly-rhythmic funk that originated in late-‘60s Nigeria. Certainly, the influence is there. The band evokes the powerful, politically charged sounds of Fela Kuti and Tony Allen on the albums “Manifesto” and “Freedom No Go Die.”

But Afrobeat is just one of the large varieties of musical cultures that has inspired Souljazz. Much of that inspiration is found right in the band’s hometown.

“Ottawa, like most Canadian urban centers, is very multicultural,” Chrétien explained. “There is a wide variety of styles and genres that are represented, from Brazilian samba groups to Haitian Kompa bands, from Cuban jazz ensembles to Senegalese griot singers.”

These genres and many others from around the world have seen a rise in popularity in recent years. Many independent labels like Soundway, Analog Africa and the Minneapolis-based Secret Stash have made a name for themselves among world music junkies. These labels have been releasing compilations of rare funk, jazz, pop and other recordings from countries such as Nigeria, Colombia and Brazil, just to name a few. Many of these recordings would otherwise have gone largely unheard in North America but thanks to word of mouth and the Internet, this relatively niche area of music is finding a new generation of ears.

But The Souljazz Orchestra does more than simply recall older styles. The six members of Souljazz constantly innovate as musicians, like on their most recent release, 2010’s “Rising Sun.” Over the course of nine tracks and 45 minutes, few would argue against calling them an orchestra in the fullest sense of the word.

More than 30 instruments are heard on “Rising Sun,” a fiery slab of Afro- and Latin-tinged jazz. The range is impressive as well. For a few minutes, the soundscape is akin to the minimalist explorations of ‘90s experimental rock band Tortoise. A short time later, the sound will evoke the big-band swing of Duke Ellington’s ensemble suites.

And it’s all acoustic, which is a first for the band.

“[Going all acoustic] was to challenge ourselves and to get us to think outside of the box,” says Chrétien. “We like to keep things fresh and switch things up while striving to maintain a consistent thread throughout all of our writing.”

Above all, the organic, multifaceted music of The Souljazz Orchestra is ideal in a live setting, and you can expect a packed and sweaty dance floor when they unleash their relentless funky rhythms at the Triple Rock Social Club on Saturday night.