Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls: Seize the Time

Ted Sirota’s agenda here is overtly political. “No powerful movement for change,” his liner notes tell us, “can succeed without an equally powerful cultural movement to inspire, lead and uplift the people.” To that end, this set includes compositions by the likes of Miriam Makeba, Charles Mingus, Brazil’s Caetano Veloso, and the Clash, as well as five by Sirota and various members of his ensemble.

To achieve its purpose, this kind of music should either be imbued with righteous militancy to spur us into action, or inspire hope by providing a sonic representation of what a better world might feel like if we could bring it about. On “13 De Maio,” Veloso’s commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Brazil, saxophonists Greg Ward and Geof Bradfield signify back and forth, building in intensity until their dialogue approximates something akin to a freedom shout; guitarist Dave Miller sounds as if he’s replicating the timbre and percussiveness of steel drums in his solo. On Miriam Makeba’s “Polo Mze Pt. 1,” Miller’s electric barbed-wire leads mix with the dual-fueled saxophones to explode into incendiary shards of power and light. “Polo Mze Pt. 2,” Sirota’s funk-toughened complement to Makeba’s composition, is aggressive and forward-thrusting throughout.

Elsewhere, though, the emotional level often seems oddly tepid–the Rebel Souls’ take on the Clash’s “Clampdown,” for instance, sounds more like a leisurely meditation than a liberationist manifesto. The original compositions, meanwhile, are pleasant, but hardly groundbreaking, exercises in mainstream contemporary jazz motifs. Only Ward’s funkified “The Keys to Freedom” manages to fully invoke both backstreet grit and jazz sophistication, if still not quite revolutionary fervor.