Personnel: Sylvester Onyejiaka (flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone, piano); Todd Simon (trumpet, flugelhorn); Roger Rivas (organ); Santa Davis (drums).
Recording information: Cali, Colombia; Capstone Studios, London; Dialtone, Jamaica; Flying Carpet Studios, Los Angeles; Kingsize North, Los Angeles; Mi7 Studios, London; Studio G, Brooklyn.
Illustrators: Brian Cross; Niall McCormack.
1000 Watts is the third offering by Quantic's Flowering Inferno project. The producer/DJ/musician Will Holland (aka Quantic) brings the sound full circle. The series was originally conceived to marry Caribbean and Latin American musics (especially cumbia). 2008's Death of the Revolution was an easy-grooving set consisting mostly of humid, jazzy, rocksteady reggae with some South American harmonics and rhythms. 2010's Dog with a Rope featured a larger cast of players -- including pianist Alfredo Linares -- and focused hard on the Latin side. It highlighted the prominent but laid-back basslines characteristic of both cumbia and reggae, along with a percussion army to create something melodic, danceable, and hypnotic. Six years on, 1000 Watts moves back to the Caribbean in a steaming set of roots reggae jams. Cumbia is present but doesn't show up -- overtly -- until the album's midpoint. Quantic employs a great cast of singers and players, among them Jamaican drummer Carlton "Santa" Davis (Abyssinians, Aggrovators, Bob Marley) and the late keyboardist Isaiah "Ikey" Owens (Mars Volta, Jack White). Quantic recorded them in the same room live to tape. Check the deep dread dub of opener "Spring Tank Fire" (named for the spring reverb box inside vintage amplifiers) with its bright chunky guitar, vamping horns, echo-laden drums, and steamy bass pulse. First single "A Life Worth Living" offers skanking horns and vintage dancehall riddims that frame the legendary U-Roy's iconic toasting and Alice Russell's sweet, soulful backing vocals. Hollie Cook offers a slippery, nocturnal meld of rocksteady reggae and jazzy soul on "Shuffle Them Shoes" led by a swirling tenor saxophone and grooving B-3. Christopher Ellis guests on two tracks, including the title number, where blasting sound system grooves meet sultry lovers rock. It's followed by "Chambacú," a killer cumbia cover delivered by Nidia Góngora, who has worked with Quantic on more folk-oriented projects in the past. The instrumental "Homeward Bound" weds late ska-style horns to a string chart that could have come straight from Motown and underscores them with dank, smoky dub. And speaking of ska, another cover, "Macondo," blurs the line between it and vallenato with jaunty accordion breaks in the bridge and outro. The set closes with Ellis delivering a uniquely arranged cover of Stevie Wonder's "All I Do Is Think About You," an homage to the Tammi Terrell hit. The locked, summery reggae riddims are framed by a small string section that's mixed way up front with the vocal and offer dramatic fills in support. Sunny guitar and a backing chorus accent each of his sung lines, underscoring the track's romantic lyrics. The Flowering Inferno series may one of Holland's side projects, but it stands apart from his Quantic Soul Orchestra, remixes and other productions. Its sheer musicality makes it one of his most consistent and expressive of the unit's three albums, and 1000 Watts is easily the strongest. ~ Thom Jurek