Souljazz Orchestra going global

Ottawa's Souljazz has become a band in high demand in some pretty exotic locales.

Ottawa's Souljazz has become a band in high demand in some pretty exotic locales.

ALLAN WIGNEY - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 4:32 AM ET

It is, Pierre Chretien insists, still very much an Ottawa band.

But increasingly, The Souljazz Orchestra is bringing its infectious global sound around the globe.

Late last year, it was a string of sold-out shows in Europe. Last month, the sextet was wowing them in Brooklyn. Come July, it's back overseas for club and festival dates in the U.K., France, Austria, Denmark and Hungary. Further shows in such exotic locales as Iceland are in the works.

"To them," Chretien muses with a laugh, "we're exotic Canadians."

Yet despite such globetrotting activities, Chretien and band will find time in their busy schedule to play three local dates over the next five weeks, beginning with a celebration of Souljazz at Barrymore's on Saturday. (A more intimate show at Gatineau's Le Petit Chicago is slated for June 21; a considerably less intimate performance will take place in Confederation Park on July 1.)

"We're still an Ottawa band," Chretien says. "I mean, we live here, these are our stomping grounds.

"We're playing more and more all over the world, but we're definitely an Ottawa band. Ottawa taught us to interact with crowds and to get them participating. Ottawa has been our training camp."

Few bands have trained harder for the success now coming Souljazz's way.

Five years' worth of weekly local gigs saw the band graduate from residencies at the University of Ottawa's Cafe Nostalgica to the Mercury Lounge to Babylon.

By the release of the band's superb second album, Freedom No Go Die, the combo's ensemble playing benefited from near-telepathic communication between members.

Moreover, what had begun as essentially an opportunity for U of O music students (Chretien continues to pursue masters studies in music composition) to play jazz has evolved into a multicultural band whose ability to craft original dance music in funk, Latin and afrobeat styles has rightly commanded international attention.

"We started out a little jazzy, a little more laid back, but after a while you want that crowd participation," Chretien says of the evolution.

"We started exploring genres related to jazz, but not your intellectual, listening jazz. So afrobeat, Latin, funk ... it was all kind of a natural progression."

The group's 2005 debut, Uprooted, captured Souljazz in the midst of that transition. But if Uprooted represented a band not yet fully formed, it was no less appealing for it. And within months of the CD's independent release, ears well outside the 613 were perking up.

"We were just doing it for the fun of it," keyboardist/songwriter/arranger/vocalist Chretien says.

"But when the album started getting airplay all over the world, we started figuring something was happening. Then we got a record deal and things really started to happen."

The deal, through Toronto's Do Right! Music, will see the band's next, already completed album see international release following its Canadian arrival in September. On CD and vinyl. (The label has also reissued Freedom No Go Die on LP.)

Much touring will follow thanks to the group's having recently been picked up internationally by The Agency Group.

"They do Pink Floyd and Dolly Parton and all those people," Chretien says of the world's largest booking agency. "That has helped a bit."

A bit. But the bulk of the credit for the band's success must go directly to the musicians -- a not only talented, but also determined lot.

"The music side is important. You need to have your chops and to practise and all that," Chretien notes.

"But you also need to take initiative and take care of the whole business aspect of it. I think it's important to promote yourself and to get out there. It's a lot of work, but a lot of musicians ignore that part of it and go unnoticed because of it."


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