Posts Tagged ‘Allan Holdsworth’

1. Glass Lullaby (2:32 )
2. A New Day (6:59)
3. Bent Bayou (4:00)
4. Star Gazing (2:41)
5. Edith Street (3:38)
6. The Fifth (6:38)
7. Waterways  (3:08)
8. The Billows (5:49)
9. Monsieur Vintage (3:38)
10. Rapid Eye Movement (2:33)
11. Brain Funk (3:28)
12. A Spontaneous Story (3:56)
13. Two for Ya (2:44)
14. Invisible (1:35)

Chad Wackerman – drums, percussion
Allan Holdsworth – guitar, SynthAxe, Starr Z-board
Jim Cox – keyboards
Jimmy Johnson – bass

California-born drummer Chad Wackerman needs no introduction for fans of jazz-rock/fusion. After his 7-year stint with Frank Zappa in the Eighties – started when he was barely 20 years old – he embarked on a successful career as a session player. He also toured with such diverse artists as his former Zappa bandmate Steve Vai, former Police guitarist Andy Summers and famed singer-songwriter James Taylor. He is also known to fusion fans for his long-standing collaboration with Allan Holdsworth, which continues on Wackerman’s fifth solo release, titled Dreams, Nightmares and Improvisations.

As the title implies, Dreams, Nightmares and Improvisations presents a collection of musical sketches that may initially come across as quite similar to each other, though subtle differences will unfold at each successive listen. With a dream team of musicians on board – including, besides Holdsworth, two veterans of the jazz-rock scene such as keyboardist Jim Cox and bassist Jimmy Johnson – the album’s 14 tracks showcase the artists’ individual skills while maintaining a sense of cohesion. The smooth, effortless dynamics within the group reveals the ease born of a long familiarity with each other’s styles and quirks, almost uncanny in the light of the largely improvised nature of the music.

All of the tracks possess a laid-back, slightly loose quality, which is particularly true of the shorter numbers in the second half of the album. While Wackerman’s state-of-the-art drumming is often placed in the spotlight (more prominently than on the average jazz-fusion album, where the drumming tends to be somewhat understated), it does not overwhelm the other instruments. Jimmy Johnson’s equally dazzling bass lines often emerge in sudden bursts of sound, while Jim Cox’s majestic keyboard washes, supported by Holdsworth’s signature SynthAxe with its atmospheric, somewhat faraway sound, round out the whole.

The tinkling percussion and surging keyboards of opener “Glass Lullaby” immediately introduce an ambient note (later reinforced by pieces such as the aptly-titled “The Billows” and “Waterways); indeed, as a whole the album tends towards a slow, meditative atmosphere rather than the sleek dynamics of more tightly structured instances of the jazz-fusion genre. In “A New Day” – at almost 7 minutes the longest number on the album – the lazy, almost meandering SynthAxe and crashing cymbals suggest the steady movement of a waterfall; while the 6-minute “The Fifth” starts out briskly, then slows down towards the end, with the guitar stepping up in elegantly unhurried fashion. The two funky numbers towards the end at the album, “Brain Funk” and “Two for Ya”, sound vaguely out of place in the context of the album, and the slightly dissonant, distorted sound of the SynthAxe may feel somewhat grating. On the other hand, the short drum solo of “Rapid Eye Movement” offers a display of Wackerman’s skills without the pointless pyrotechnics usually associated with such items.

With brilliant performances all around, Dreams, Nightmares and Improvisations is highly recommended to jazz-fusion fans (and obviously drummers), though its impact may not necessarily be immediate. Listeners may also find that it works much more effectively if taken as a whole rather than as a collection of separate tracks. All in all, the album is a classy offering that can be appreciated by anyone who loves music performed with the right balance of skill and emotion.


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1. Prelude (1:35)
2. Ruhkukah (5:32)
3. Low Levels, High Stakes (9:03)
4. Hard Hat Area (6:03)
5. Tullio (5:59)
6. House of Mirrors (7:44)
7. Postlude (5:28)

Allan Holdsworth –  guitar, SynthAxe
Steve Hunt  – keyboards
Gary Husband – drums
Skúli Sverrisson – bass guitar

1. Countdown (3:09)
2. Nuages (5:40)
3. How Deep Is the Ocean (5:29)
4. Isotope (5:41)
5. None Too Soon Pt. 1 / Interlude / None Too Soon Pt. 2 (7:42)
6. Norwegian Wood (5:55)
7. Very Early (7:40)
8. San Marcos (3:22)
9. Inner Urge (6:15)

Gordon Beck – digital piano, keyboards
Kirk Covington – drums
Allan Holdsworth – guitar, SynthAxe
Gary Willis – bass guitar

Yorkshire-born guitarist Allan Holsworth needs no introduction for progressive rock lovers of every persuasion. Before Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci and their ilk’s dazzling, faster-than-the-speed-of-light skills on the six strings gained worldwide success, Holdsworth had already attained legendary status for his work both as a solo artist and with the likes of Gong, Soft Machine, Jean-Luc Ponty and UK. Though the albums released in his own name are in the minority if compared to the sheer number of his collaborations, over the years they have become almost objects of cult in the community of jazz-fusion fans

Though I was familiar with Holdsworth’s work with bands such as UK and Gong,  I had not yet got round to exploring his solo output. Holdsworth’s reputation as the quintessential “musicians’ musician” may cause his work to be somewhat daunting for those who, like myself, have never touched a musical instrument in their lives. However, even laypersons can derive a lot of enjoyment from listening to music of such outstanding level,  although the nature of our comments will necessarily be “impressionistic”, so to speak, and probably even more so than in other occasions – as we will be unable to touch on any of the technical details essential for any practicing six-stringer.

Hard Hat Area and None Too Soon belong to the stage of Holdsworth’s full maturity as a musician and composer, as well as a pioneer of the iconic SynthAxe. Released only three years apart (respectively in 1993 and 1996), they differ quite noticeably in terms of  style and lineup. Both albums were out of print for a number of years before Leonardo Pavkovic of MoonJune Records (who is a personal friend of Holdsworth’s as well as fan of his music) took it upon himself to have them remastered and reissued – complete with exhaustive liner notes retracing their history, courtesy of Guitar Player magazine associate editor Barry Cleveland (also a fine musician in his own right). The distinctive elements of both albums are lovingly brought to the fore, with excellent sound quality that allows the listeners to partake of the seamless instrumental interplay without feeling overwhelmed by thousands of notes played at the speed of light.

As Cleveland points out, Holdsworth’s eight solo album, Hard Hat Area, is a logical extension of the guitarist’s previous efforts. It also marks the first time that he recorded an album in the studio with his touring band  (comprising drummer Gary Husband, keyboardist Steve Hunt and Icelandic bassist Skúli Sverrisson), instead of recording each track on his own and then adding the other instruments. Not surprisingly, the result are 41 minutes of music that are astonishingly proficient from a technical point of view, yet also warm and fluid, showcasing Holdsworth’s trademark style without detracting from the other players’ outstanding skills. Indeed, in spite of the sky-high level of proficiency involved, the listener never gets the impression that the musicians are showing off – unlike  much of the output of modern “guitar legends”. The music possesses that easy, natural flow that can be so hard to achieve, and the crystalline sound quality emphasizes the sleek, effortless nature of the interaction between the various instruments.

The album, conceived in near-symphonic fashion with a “Prelude” and a “Postlude”, is laid-back, at times even lyrical in mood. In the almost 10-minute “Low Levels, High Stakes”, Holdsworth’s guitar and SynthAxe take on a calm, meditative tone, reflected by Hunt’s lovely rippling piano and Husband’s muted yet stunning drum work. Elegant and full of melody, the textbook-perfect fusion of “Ruhkukah” proves once again that fast playing does not have to equal soulless shredding. The title-track, on the other hand, introduces some harsh, industrial elements through mechanical sound effects and a sharper, metallic guitar tone; The atmospheric quality of “Postlude”, enhanced by ethereal keyboard washes, allows Skúli Sverrisson’s splendidly understated bass to step into the limelight, while the SynthAxe engages in a sort of “duel” with the drums, emphasizing the almost uncanny chemistry between Holdsworth and Husband.

Even if released less than three years after Hard Hat Area, None Too Soon is quite a different beast – featuring a completely new band (including Holdsworth’s longtime friend and collaborator, the late pianist Gordon Beck) and a tracklist largely consisting of covers of jazz classics by revered composers such as Bill Evans, Irving Berlin and John Coltrane. While Hard Hat Area is a top-notch example of fusion, None Too Soon treads into traditional jazz territory, though the pervasive presence of the SynthAxe pushes it firmly into a contemporary context that might alienate hardcore purists. Gary Willis and Kirk Covington of US jazz-fusion outfit Tribal Tech provide an impeccable rhythm backdrop, often understated, occasionally stepping into the limelight. However, the real protagonist of the album – in some ways even more so than Holdsworth – is Gordon Beck’s fluid, scintillating piano, which complements Holdsworth’s playing with the effortless ease born of a long partnership.

Clocking in at around 51 minutes, the album features 9 tracks, two of which are Beck’s own compositions – the three-part title-track, with its almost lazy, relaxed mood, and the brisk, energetic “San Marcos”. The jazz novice will probably be unfamiliar with most of the tracks, except for The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” – here almost unrecognizable, with a dazzling, piano-led central section bookended by the well-known, Indian-tinged tune. An understated, atmospheric rendition of Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages”, with Beck’s magnificent piano complementing Holdsworth’s exertions, and Bill Evans’ elegant, romantic “Very Early”, which sees Willis’ bass emerge discreetly, are also among the undisputed highlights of a very solid album.

Needless to say, both albums are essential listening for any self-respecting fan of jazz-rock/fusion, as well as for guitarists who want to learn how to effectively combine speed and technical proficiency with melody and emotion. They also offer an invaluable introduction to Holdsworth’s solo output, as well as a genuinely enjoyable listening experience for those non-musicians who  love great music. Kudos to Leonardo Pavkovic for having rescued these excellent albums from oblivion.



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