Will Holland, the British DJ and musician who performs under a variety of names (most notably Quantic, Quantic Soul Orchestra, and Flowering Inferno), relocated to Cali, Colombia in 2007 and has been busy ever since producing music inspired by the rhythms and sounds of the region via a hyperactive schedule of recordings and performances. Tradition in Transition sees him teaming up with a variety of international performers for a modern fusion album based on Colombian rhythms infused with North Indian vocals, Brazilian string arrangements, and Panamanian soul. It’s essentially a live-band version of Holland’s previous world-sampling sounds.
The album opens and closes with the two-part instrumental “The Dreaming Mind”, scored by Brazilian arranger Arthur Verocai, whose self-titled album from 1972 is something of a collector’s item and a touchstone for those turned on by the intersection of Brazilian music, jazz, and funk. The lush strings add an exploratory feel to the music, which, on the longer Part 1, is underlined by funky electric guitar; the effect is to suggest both a vaguely Eastern soundworld and a filmic soundtrack. But if this is to be the theme to the album, it’s not entirely clear what scene is being set. A second instrumental, the groovy “Más Pan”, establishes the album more fully as it mixes funky bass with party brass and sensuous horn extrapolations. We could be at the funkier end of Blue Note for these five minutes.
The eight-and-a half-minute “Linda Morena” gets underway with simple piano chords and horn riffs before hitting its stride with a funky syncopation. Panamanian soul singer Kabir intones the paean to the titular heroine with a confident, laid-back swagger, singing initially in English before switching to Spanish. Backing singers and horns provide sassy responses to Kabir’s lines and then, rather wonderfully, Alfredo Linares takes a piano solo. Linares is a Cali-based musician originally from Peru who has been performing with salsa bands since the 1960s. His style oscillates between on-the-dot accompaniment and wild, wandering expeditions up and down the keyboard. The backing music on “Linda Morena” seems to get even more laid-back as Linares’s lines become more frantic and the resulting confusion is thrilling. Linares is notable again when he comes to the rescue of the instrumental “Undelivered Letter”, a track which is initially overwhelmed by Verocai’s string arrangements. Linares’s piano, while exciting on its own, also allows us to focus on the fine rhythm track.
Colombian singer Nidia Góngora provides vocals on her song “Un Canto a Mi Terra”. It’s a splendid piece, all keening vocals, transcendent brass, and catchy, complex percussion. One of its many beauties is the way it represents the interlaced sounds of Latin America and Africa, most notable in the rhythm and guitar which serve as a reminder of the comings and goings of the Black Atlantic. This is also evident in the tremendously likable “Mambo los Quantic”, which does exactly what one would hope a Quantic mambo would do.
“Albela” unexpectedly adds North Indian vocals, courtesy of US-based singer Falu. Despite the sonic journeying promised by the instrumental theme which opens the album, it’s not entirely clear what this piece is doing. Much better is “I Just Fell in Love Again”, another soul number featuring Kabir and driven by a great bassline, motivational horns, and inspiring gospel interventions from the backing choir.
Verocai’s strings are put to haunting use on “Canção do Deserto”, which explores a range of musical spaces over six compelling minutes. Over a consistent drum beat, filled out with chattering congas, the strings swoop and soar, taking restless flight over the sparse soundscape evoked by Linares’s dissonant, jagged piano wanderings. The result is an uncanny rumination on the reverse side of the good times explored elsewhere on the album.
The instrumentals which fill out the remainder of the Tradition in Transition unfortunately feel like just that: filler. They are a reminder of the way in which Latin American music has too frequently been steered by Anglophone musicians, DJs, and producers towards the undistinguished and undistinguishable soundworld of exotic lounge. Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro don’t need to follow this route, as they prove on the bulk of this album. From “Más Pan” to “Cancão do Deserto”, they rarely put a foot wrong.