We're living in the middle of a veritable renaissance of "Spiritual Jazz" — the genre originally spearheaded by John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, and many others recording for everyone from the familiar orange-and-black Impulse! label to a plethora of microlabels and DIY Afrocentrist operations. Revealing reissues keep appearing — like last year's small-label compilation by Jazzman, or the recent collection and book Freedom, Rhythm and Sound, by BBC DJ Gilles Peterson. Even some of the past masters, like Mulatu Astatke, are producing new work and playing to packed houses.
Since 2002, Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra has been turning this collective worship at the church of the late Coltrane and his fellow deep jazzists into new compositions and moving renditions of unlikely standards like Pharoah Sanders's "Rejoice." On their third album, the first one on Strut, the Orchestra weaves strands of Ethiojazz, Fela-inspired Afrobeat, and the towering influence of the Impulse! masters into a full-blown revival.
The Canadians prove that they have the modal chops to get away with 1968-vintage titles like "Awakening," "Serenity," and "Consecration," and it should be a real treat for those too young to have seen the giants when they roamed the earth to catch the Orchestra interpreting this material live. With its short, accessible pieces, Rising Sun could also offer an entry point into the rich Spiritual Jazz genre for those who might be intimidated by more-far-out offerings like Coltrane's Om, Ayler's Spiritual Unity, and Ra's Space Is the Place.