Will “Quantic” Holland is a British musician, DJ and recording artist who has gained success since 2001 with his eclectic mix of jazz, soul, easy-listening, Latin, funk and urban-influenced instrumental music that seems defiantly to challenge categorisation or commercial polish. This mix is both the album’s strength and its flaw.
The Quantic brand has built up a strong global following with its jazz sensibility mixed with dancefloor orientated grooves, deep funk, tough drums and tropical rhythms. Alternative dance is one moniker given to his sound, and it’s certainly true that this is an album designed for the less raucous party.
A career built on a defiantly electronic groove, with this new album, The Western Transient, Quantic has moved the goalposts somewhat with a stripped-back and soul-influenced sound which is fresh but, across a whole album, in the end a little forgettable.
Listening to this album I was transported back to the early nineties and the explosion in UK acid and smooth jazz, which also drew heavily on a US-soul vibe. I’m thinking in particular of fresh young bands like Corduroy and, in their early career, the James Taylor Quartet, who both had an easy vibe, cool ethos, brass and organ sound with a smooth-dude charm that suggested that if it was part of the jazz family, it was at least twice-removed.
Across ten tracks, The Western Transient offers limited musical variety but has a simple charm which makes up for the lack of any real punch and urgency in the music.
Opener Latitude is a rather nice palette cleanser, with a wonderfully taut trumpet/sax motif that opens up into a southern California vibe over an unassuming rhythm. Jumble Sale, track two, switches to a funkier groove, with the sax and trumpet driving a melody that leads into a annoyingly catchy track which is, however, let down by the insipidness of its overall sound
Third cut Nordeste introduces a clearer latin vibe, all emphatic rhythm and strummed guitar, but throws a curve ball with some interesting electronic sounds driving the melody. Perhaps the most interesting track on the album
Fourth cut Bicycle Ride is stuck knee deep in a heavy sixties soul vibe which, while it moves the track along, sounds in this mix a little derivative and without much to say. Similarly, Mirzan offers up a Caribbean lilt, with a simple guitar motif and laid-back rhythm, but again provides little to trouble the ear or excite the listener.
Then again, that’s probably the exact point of this album. It’s ‘easy’ listening in its truest sense, chewable chunks of music to enjoying while lying back in an armchair to with the short of your choice and plenty of ice, and just chill.
Last track Latitude is the most jazz-like tune on the album, finishing the album in the same way it started, with enough of a jazz sensibility to attract the curiosity of aficionado without frightening off the casual listener looking for something edgy yet accessible.
The album has a distinct, stripped-down recorded sound which sits well with the music. The quality of the recording feels quite unsophisticated and grimy, reflecting the fact that Quantic deliberately used vintage instrumentation and equipment to capture an uncomplicated and honest sixties soul-funk vibe on this album
Clearly dedicated to his craft and accuracy, fifteen albums in Quantic's obviously doing something right to attracts interest across the world and carve out his own niche in the music scene. However, for this listener the album’s eclectic charm was also its weakness. It’s a pleasant listen, but essentially underwhelming when listened to straight through with serious intent.
The perfect ‘background music’ album, then, perhaps? Jazz fans should give it a spin, but don’t expect fireworks.