Take a quick look at the song list on the back and the first thing you'll notice is that this set begins with a Clash tune. The Clash? Did we bypass Radiohead and go straight to Joe Strummer? Well, sort of. The song is more a tribute to the Clash, an expansion on their song "Clampdown" than it is a literal rendition. And the Caetano Veloso song and the Miriam Makeba song hew closer to the originals, it's not by much. Sirota is a forward thinking bloke, and he's not here to make it big by jazzing up some pop tunes ala Robert Glasper et al. Actually, the real thread that connects most of the material here is political activism. The Clash song is a paean to personal freedom in an increasingly big brother society, Caetano's "13 De Mayo" celebrates the end of slavery in Brazil, the Mingus tune decries prison conditions and racism, "Viva Max!" is a reference to how Max Roach's social conscious is inspiring to drummer Sirota and his music.
The first thing you'll notice when you put the album on is the infectious joy that seeps out. At times things can get cacophonous, not unlike the Brotherhood of Breath, or Mingus when he's happy and not mad as hell. Tenor player Geof Bradfield and altoist Greg Ward weave in and out of each other's lines with an abandon that would do Konitz and Marsh proud. Dave Miller's guitar playing is delightfully away from mainstream Scofieldisms (his solo on "13 De Maio" is truly awesome). The band has a way of settling into a heavy groove, like the reggae of "Killa Dilla" (much thanks to Sirota and his partner in the rhythm section Jake Vinsel on bass), that somehow belies their simultaneous ability to get crazy.
Rebel Souls is a band full of great writers as well as improvisers. All of the members contribute a tune, and together they make up a democratic band concept, rather than the Ted Sirota Autocracy. Or so it seems to me.