All photos by Andre Gagne
The crowd outside Babylon Nightclub was ready for a shakedown. The clock struck ten and they began to hunt. They rushed through security, eyes scanning every inch of the club. Some flicked on phone flashlights and started scanning the ceiling. Others pushed by them to peek behind speakers, under tables and behind the bar. The soundtrack for the search was sweet soul spun by a DJ perhaps wondering how long it would take before the stage would be pounced upon by the hunters. They spared him, instead turning towards the furniture to lift cushions, move chairs, and open drawers when suddenly somebody let out a cry of: “We got one!”
Under usual circumstances this would be cause for alarm, an opportunity for you to discover just why they are called “bouncers” and a rapid rediscovery of the sidewalk outside of the nightclub. However, this wasn’t a regular night in Babylon. This was an Easter Weekend Shakedown, a playful idea drummed (and sax’ed) up by one of Ottawa’s premiere party bands, The Souljazz Orchestra.
“We wanted to add something else, something Easter-themed, and we thought why not an egg hunt?” laughs Pierre Chrétien, the group’s bandleader and vintage keyboard player, before taking the stage to a very enthusiastic crowd.
Fans, after scouring the club for eggs, could trade them in for vinyl releases or CDs and with such incentive the hunt was over quickly. With every egg discovered the crowd was ready to move and groove to a band that’s live shows have become legendary.
The March 24 Easter weekend kick-off show was a welcome return for the band. Before earth quakin’, soul shakin’ shows in the US and UK, the Juno nominations and critical acclaim the band was unleashing their funky blend of Soul, Afro, Latin, Jazz and Caribbean style onto hot crowds at Babylon every Thursday night.
“As they started to grow in popularity outside of Ottawa and tour more, the weekly event became unfeasible,” says club owner Adam Kronick. “We have always stayed in touch aiming to host usually two to three shows a year for the local fans. They are such a terrific band with so much talent. We always welcome the opportunity to have them play the club.”
The mood for the evening was set by DJ Magnificent who spun some classic up-temp soul 45s to a crowd that filled the floor early in anticipation of the thunder about to strike the stage. Magnificent, also known as Alex Edwards, is grooving towards year seven with his Double Barrel vinyl only funk, reggae and soul shows. Edwards spun at Mugshots before the place closed down in controversial style last year but you can now boogie with him to the beats Friday nights at the Mercury Lounge.
‘The great thing about DJ Magnificent is that his style meshes in so well with ours,” says Chrétien of their first collaboration with Edwards that night. “We don’t touch exactly on the same styles but it’s complimentary. It’s all about the groove.”
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The band previewed a few new tracks mixed in with some old favourites that had the boisterous crowd singing and fist pumping as they danced. It’s not a Souljazz show until you’re dripping sweat and your feet are on fire. Winter wear did not stay coated to skin long. With the energy the band provided you have to wonder if the venue was harnessing that to channel into the lights. You feel this music in you wrapping around your muscles as it grips hold pit bull strong and defies you to stay still. The horns are infectious, the vocals inject you with sweet soul sickness and the only cure is to dance it all out. If you find yourself still moving when you’re in bed after the show, don’t worry. Those are just aftershocks.
The band heads on over to Africa in May, their first time playing there, but they’ll be back to headline Westfest in June. You can keep the party going at Babylon while you wait with shows by DJ A-Track (March 29) and Detroit post-punk band Protomartyr (May 4) as well as he club’s usual Sabbath Sundays and a monthly Electric Pow Wow with A Tribe Called Red.