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Allan Holdsworth - Blues For Tony (with Alan Pasqua/Jimmy Haslip/Chad Wackerman) CD (album) cover


Allan Holdsworth


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.65 | 18 ratings

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5 stars Allan Holdsworth is probably the greatest rock guitarist there ever ever was and is. On the other hand, he has made some pretty duff albums over the years. His seventies solos were astonishing slalom runs, lark ascensions, and bat-on-fire breakouts, snaking all over the chords, but chances are the band behind him were doing something pretty noodly and dull. He joined Soft Machine after the decent guys had left. He joined Tony Williams' Lifetime after the thing had cracked. He did some solo stuff, but got terrible croaky old rockers to sing on them. Then he got into the synthaxe and started making sounds that sounded like trippy keyboards, fashioning dripping wet chords out of knotted runs and ultrafast tapping patterns that melted into the very best sort of psychedelic mush. Fortunately, by this stage of his stellar, but very introverted, evolution, he was emboldened to ditch the vocals (thanks be), and make some gnarly tunes with just a cool funk bass and a thudding zappa-ish drummer to spar with, maybe a bit of keys here and there, but not too much. And he finally produced one of his masterpieces, the album Sand.

Sand is a guitar album, but not as we know it. Somehow, even when the drummer's really banging, and the bass is popping, it still sounds like it's coming up from under the sea with mouthful of, well, sand. It has dynamic variety, of course - sometimes soft, sometimes hard and loud - but these have somehow become sublimated into the obliquity of a deep dream state. And that's where the man is best, playing loud music in slunk kid gloves, merging chords and complex harmonic headfuck into a funny tasting, funny coloured, curiously inexhaustible brew.

Holdsworth's next unalloyed masterpiece was The Sixteen Men of Tain. Same formula, but more guitarry. This Blues for Tony album under review, if you took out the Alan Pasqua compositions (fine though they are, mostly), and the audience clapping, would definitely be a third Allan Holdsworth masterpiece. As it is, it's more collaborative than that, but still the cat's nighty in it's own immaculate way.

Wackerman has played with Holdsworth a lot, so he knows how to modulate tumbled clatters, snicketty cymbalism and basement thuds into a crisp but glassily hypnotic understructure. Haslip too has been a comrade for a while, and he has a wonderfully fat pluckish bass tone that prods away in the right corners. He's playing the thing entirely upside down, all six strings in the wrong place, and, it's true, he does sound more like a cool dude muso than the others, but it works fine in a sometimes powdery, sometimes greasy way. Pasqua is on a Nord Stage keyboard, gussied up with loads of valvey tone-generator minge and backwards hum patches, which he alternates with broken-bell rhodes sounds. Holdsworth slips in and out like pure bottled genie. Soundwise, the band is completely perfect. Many fans of this sort of rockjazz stuff don't like this particular sort of busy but flattened dynamics, the sheer head-down selflessness of it, the equalised, almost static, landscape quality of it, but I think that's because they're after something that isn't on offer. These guys don't do bragadoccio ? at least not on Holdsworth's watch. Balance like this doesn't come off a mixing desk, it's a state of perfectly instrumented communion.

Play it loud (I do mean loud) and it completely blows your mind. Play it softly off your iTunes ten times in a row and you start to memorise the ziggurats and degringolades in the solos. Play it every day and maybe you'll figure out what Allan Holdsworth is doing. He's always been way ahead, a sort of Coltrane of the fretboard, so it's a great privilege to have these odd, rare recordings of his where everyone in the room is on equal par. That good at what they do. Concentrating that hard. And grooving, in a spacey kind of way.

nosuchzone | 5/5 |


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