The Souljazz Orchestra
- Mama Roux
Due to unforeseen transport hopelessness I arrive in time only to catch the last couple of numbers from support act Mama Roux. They take their name from a Dr John song, the singer is called Robert Johnson and he’s a dead ringer for The Band’s Robbie Robertson – and, if you like all of them, then there’s a great chance you’ll like Mama Roux’s blend of southern rock, blues and funky New Orleans swamp. The combination of Johnson’s guitar and Stephen Powell’s saxophone allows for a jazzier feel than would otherwise be the case with a straightforward guitar combo, and Powell is given free rein, working sinuous solos and honking riffs into The Voodoo’s Got You and a light, hooky motif which anchors Johnson’s fluid guitar as their final number draws sustained applause from a growing crowd.
Hailing from Ottawa this is THE SOULJAZZ ORCHESTRA’s first appearance in Liverpool and let’s hope, pray, or sacrifice Tories to ensure that it’s not their last. With albums entitled Freedom No Go Die, Solidarity and 2015’s Resistance under their belt, they wear their heart on their sleeve, and from the first Latin rhythms of Greet The Dawn with its opening line “There’s a better way of life for the workers and their poor”, Souljazz Orchestra declare their musical and political intentions.
Several of the bands I’ve seen here recently seem to be vying to see who can get the crowd dancing quickest and this is right up there; literally about five bars in and the crowd are moving, looking at each other in confirmational delight as they realise that this looks like an absolute banger. “We got two rules,” declares baritone sax player Ray Murray. “Rule one, you gotta dance. Rule two, if you can’t dance we don’t give a fuck, you gotta dance anyway.” Actually, with rhythms like this you don’t need rules – who can resist? Not this crowd.
Not quite as stripped down as ESG last month, but cut from that same ‘less is more’ cloth, here are another band who conjure seemingly endless and interesting patterns from a relatively basic source. Drums, percussion, horns, and keyboards complete the line-up. Although their recorded material utilises guitar and bass, those traditional funk accoutrements are eschewed tonight. However, when you have a keyboard player like Pierre Chretien then maybe anything more would be clutter. The keys sound at times like vibes, like wah-wah guitar, like a Hammond, like electric piano, and are played with a virtuoso flamboyance and dedication to the groove. Drummer Philippe Lafrenier seems to throw his shoulders into each beat and – whether it’s funk, jazz, Afrobeat or Latin, and all of those elements are in the mix – he absolutely nails it.
A horn section of three saxophones is also somewhat unusual but the mix of alto (Zakari Frantz), tenor (Steve Patterson) and baritone (Murray) provides a rich, heady brew. When all three are riffing together they punch holes in the ozone layer, and when one of them takes off on a jazzy solo voyage his comrades are there to keep things grounded. Marielle Rivard completes the line-up on vocals and everyone chips in on a plethora of percussion instruments and additional vocal, whether Bus Stop-style chant-a-longs or the 70s social commentary of People People. “We just ousted a right-wing asshole,” yells Chretien, referencing the Canadian presidential election results announced earlier. There is some applause for this but generally I get the impression that this audience is here to party not to protest. Souljazz Orchestra indulge them in spades.
After a particularly groove-laden Life Is What You Make It, from the new album, Murray asks “are you ready to get funky?” Err, what, you can get even funkier? With a squirt of slinky keyboard, a blast of the horns and a shimmering percussion they proceed to set fire to the dancefloor, the horn section adding visual rhythm with some tasty choreographed dance moves. Another irresistible rhythm worms its way under the skin – funky, funkier, most funky!