Review: Agent J
Look Around The Corner, out last month on Tru Thoughts and the first full collaborative album between Alice Russell and Will Holland (aka Quantic), has woken up a few heads who might have thought the days of new quality soul of this ilk had passed. And so, there’s a high expectation of the live shows these two are putting on as Will returns to tour his home shores (now calling Cali, Columbia home).
There’s always an air of mystery around Quantic. Casual listeners see a sea of albums, twelves and side projects but every one of those is imbued with a special, soulful formula that if you follow, you will find fulfilment. Do your research: http://www.quantic.org/projects. Lots of people already knew, and there were suitable mumblings of reverence as he took to the stage. Alice Russell is equally as well spoken of, many a tastemaker’s definition of how UK soul should be sung.
This new album plays as a sequel/companion of sorts to Tradition in Transition, Will’s debut with his Columbian band (el Combo Barbaro) following his move to South America. Shipping over Alice to record with those musicians, I was a little worried that the live incarnation this time around, containing only two South American players, wouldn’t be able to carry off the LP’s sound. I’d been lucky enough to catch the full Combo last time ’round (in Uppermill!), and that was phenomenal.
But this is Quantic we’re talking about, and precision is key. Drafting in the Quantic Soul Orchestra’s (and Madlib and DJ Shadow collaborator) Malcolm Catto on drums, el Combo’s Freddy Colorado on percussion and true Peruvian legend Alfredito Linares on keys, Alice’s trusty backing singer/fiddle player Mike Simmonds (sounding like a brass section with that one instrument) and Dan Swain’s double bass rounded out a force to be reckoned with.
Will played his usual role of band-leader-in-the-background, occasionally venturing to the mic but always ensuring the music was the focus point. Kicking off with the instrumental Una Tarde en Mariquita, Alice was brought on to a rapturous reception for I’ll Keep my Light In My Window, charming, down to earth and soulful as ever. The Stranglers’ Golden Brown, from Will’s Soundway album Los Miticos del Ritmo, saw him donning an accordion and was a nice interlude of sorts: nothing was too samey tonight.
A side note about the venue here… these sold out shows at Manchester’s Band on the Wall are crazy good. The same vibe was clear with Lee Fields a few weeks back: the size of the venue lends itself well to intimacy with the artists performing, often meaning they’re putty in the hands of the band. Lots of whole venue clapping and singing tonight (and dancing instigated by Freddy, more on that in a minute) together with a monster of a sound system resulted in party vibes all the way. It looked like the band appreciated that intimacy too, as their London gig at Koko was to a good 1500 peeps as opposed to the 350/400 here tonight.
Throwing a couple of choice Alice/QSO and Alice cuts into the mix stirred the audience up even more: Pushing On was a good ten minutes of audience participation thanks to Alice’s relentless enthusiasm, before the bliss of Look Around the Corner finished the main set with another collective crowd smile and singalong. Encoring with Here Again was funky, but End of the Road was always one of those tracks that just made you want to run on the spot – something Freddy exploited well here:
I saw another review (of the London show at Koko) that complained that Quantic had too much history, projects and releases to keep track of and this marred enjoyment of the show. Apart from being a heftily ridiculous thing to write, this misses the whole point of show like tonight’s: lose yourself in the rhythm, lose yourself in the sound. And enjoy Quantic’s hat, it’s always good.
Una Tarde en Mariquita
I’ll Keep my Light In My Window
Living the Life of a Dreamer
Road to Islay
Cumbia de Mochilla
Take Your Time, Change Your Mind
Look Around the Corner
End of the Road