Self-released, November 2023
BY ANDREW LUTHRINGER
There was a time when a forward-thinking music fan might have done their best to avoid collections of famous holiday songs. To be fair, holiday music can seem like a cash grab or a cloying, saccharine festival of cliches. Holiday jazz is a somewhat notable exception—perhaps due to the genre’s virtuosic elasticity and long lineage of Great American Songbook-adjacent song interpretation, jazz has produced a legacy of superb holiday music.
But what if you’re a fan of more adventurous, progressive strains of jazz fusion? Where is your holiday album? Most holiday fusion has tended to reside squarely on the smooth jazz side of the equation, but this year, there may be hope for your holiday playlist. Into this relative void leaps the Tacoma-based progressive instrumental band, Velocity, with Quantum Christmas.
Well into its second decade, Velocity is a band that feeds on variety, layering together a multitude of influences, including funk and R&B, progressive rock, and, of course, jazz. The quintet thrives on pushing themselves and challenging audiences, and no matter what the genre, it’s an invigorating creative challenge for musicians to cover music that’s well-known. Working within a range of limited options can power creativity. Velocity has risen to the challenge of finding something new and exciting in familiar compositions (in some cases dating back to the 18th century), while retaining the spark and spirit that made the music beloved in the first place.
Keyboardist Peter Adams (whose solo album Refuge was a 2022 standout) is usually Velocity’s main composer, but on Quantum Christmas, he takes the helm as primary arranger while also supplying epic solos on synth and piano. The familiar melodies are left relatively intact, but the underlying rhythms are shifted and permutated, and the arrangements feature hip reharmonizations, with plenty of probing solos and group improvisational fire. Quantum Christmas pushes into the funkier side of the spectrum, powered by the slickly interlocking rhythm section of Brian Smith on drums and Rob Hutchinson on bass. Tenor saxophonist Cliff Colón breathes melodic firepower and energy into the music, and new guitarist Mason Hargrove injects wiry solos, rock flourishes, and nuanced textural layers.
High points on the album include a couple of reimagined Vince Guaraldi Peanuts classics: familiar melancholy piano chords kick off “Christmas Time Is Here”, but the tune quickly shifts into a skittering odd time groove with propulsive solos from all. And don’t get too comfortable in your easy chair—the album closes with a crunchy, fusion treatment of Guaraldi’s “Skating,” its anthemic rock vibes guaranteed to keep your holidays energized.
Quantum Christmas is an audacious and welcome entry into the holiday pantheon, and progressive music fans now have a holiday album they can proudly crank for years to come.