Some people let adages and axioms slide off their shoulders. Others recognize their essential wisdom and run with them. A sterling example of the latter is the Commotions, for whom the sage chestnut, “Go big or go home” acts as a kind of roadmap for navigating the way forward.
It’s not just that the dapper Ottawa-based combo— 11 regular members plus a touring vocalist — has two lead singers, three songwriters, and a five-piece horn section featuring tenor and baritone sax, a pair of trumpets, and a trombone. Or that the guest line-up on their vibrant new album Volume II includes another 15 souls, among them some of the best musicians on the planet.
The Commotions write epic, sparkling, uncommonly skilled jazzy, funky soul/pop that, depending where you are on Volume II, conjure everything from Motown to Stax to Jake and Elwood. If this was the 1970s, The Sonny & Cher Show would be duking it out with Lola Falana to book the band for a marquee spot.
That’s not to say the Commotions are retro, exactly, though their forebears are well served by the band’s unparalleled musicianship and palpable enthusiasm. Rather, as musical director, producer, songwriter, and tenor sax ace Brian Asselin explains, the Commotions are more about reclaiming the spirit of soul that the beforementioned imprints — and the legendary artists on their rosters — championed.
Except, of course, the Commotions do it bigger.
“I feel like soul music is the music of the people,” Asselin says. “If you look at all the iconic soul performers like Marvin Gaye or even the Temptations or the Supremes, they were documenting what was happening in the world. Soul music spoke to that. We are trying to do that today.
“I do see some kindred spirits out there, people like Bruno Mars or a band I saw recently called St. Paul & The Broken Bones. Also, Mayer Hawthorne and some stuff coming out of Stones Throw Records on the West Coast. Justin Timberlake toured with a horn section. I really hope our album helps to put Canada on the soul-music map. We have some fantastic soul artists here, many of them my idols.”