[10 June 2014]
At one point in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the oldest man to be awarded three Michelin stars talks about the responsibility of a chef towards those coming to eat at his restaurant. That he must be better educated, with a more refined palette, than those coming to experience his art—for if this is not the case, how can cuisine progress and provide a better understanding of what quality truly is? Jiro works in a restaurant so small that the toilets have to be situated outside the premises, and has been making sushi for more than 50 years with such fearsome dedication that he hates going on days off as they prevent him from doing what he loves.
William Holland loves music, as the past decade of recording, producing, touring and DJing will attest. He has put out at least an album every two years since his debut, The 5th Exotic, dropped in 2001, he has produced records with British soul singer Alice Russell and American funk legend Spanky Wilson, and also captained live funk outfit the Quantic Soul Orchestra. To summarise his artistic development for those of you who don’t know of him, he began as something of a bedroom studio wunderkind, playing all the instruments on songs that took the atmospheric production from trip-hop and the ensemble groove of jazz, merging them with funky rhythm work to create pieces that were physically hypnotic and meditative of mood.
As time (and albums) passed, Holland moved further and further away from the solo studio sound, transitioning into a much more band–focussed direction that draws heavily on “world” dance music, especially cumbia, a Latino-African present segueing out of a Western past. On his new album, which boasts 10 guests singing in Arabic, Portuguese and Spanish as well as English, there’s very much a focus on variety without skimping on authenticity. You’ve got your wistful folksy soul on “You Will Return”, with Alice Russell, the barrio-rousing call-and-response of “La Plata” and “Muevelo Nuegro”, with Nidia Gongora, some heavyweight dancehall with veteran singjay Shinehead, the aforementioned cumbia, a couple of sparse but still funky instrumentals and finally some psychedelic folk to finish on.
It’s all delivered with assurance, blending an often disparate menu into an accomplished meal through warm, considered production that blurs boundaries through tasteful electro-acoustic touches rather than by confronting tradition. Some of it is timelessly lovely, like “Aguas de Sorongo”, whilst other tracks may seem to bog down in lyrical repetition given their lower tempo, although I suspect your mileage in this matter may stem from your enjoyment of popular South American music. Personally I find it sad that, whilst I cannot deny the qualities on plentiful display here, I also cannot find much that speaks to me in the way Holland’s first albums did – but heck, if he helped form my taste in music, it’s only right that I’ve gone my own way since. I still have bags of respect for Quantic, musical shinkoku that he is, and I recommend this album with the wistful confidence of a critic who can recognise great cooking, even if the meal isn’t meant for him.