Allan Holdsworth was a guitarist who not only crossed styles,but also technological areas of music. Sadly,he passed away this past Saturday at the age of 70. He was a truly academic player known for his advanced chord progressions. But he could play some serious blues with the same technical level. Throughout the 60’s and 70’s he played with both prog rock and jazz fusion bands in his native England/Europe such as Soft Machine,King Crimson,Gong and Nucleus. In the late 70’s,be became a member of Tony Williams New Lifetime before beginning his solo career as a recording artist.
The first Allan Holdsworth album was his 1986 LP Atavacron. Picked it up based purely on the cover and title-based on a favorite episode of Star Trek of mine. On the cover,the cartoon Holdsworth is holding an instrument called a SynthAxe. It was a type of MIDI controller manufactured in the UK which allowed for a more guitar-like playing style for synthesizers. Turns out it was fairly rare,and few outside Holdsworth and Lee Ritenour actually ever used it. One of my favorite songs on the mid 80’s fusion oriented Atavacron to use the SynthAxe heavily is called “The Dominant Plague”.
Future Level 42 drummer Gary Husband,along with Chad Wackerman provide the opening duel drum attack-which has a slow,gated African percussion style about it. Jimmy Johnson also provides his 6 note bass line that he improvises on throughout the song on this intro. Very the chorus Alan Pasqua delivers a wailing synth brass solo. On the refrains,over the same rhythm,Pasqua also provides a very glassy,steel drum like synth line. On the bridge,actually a chorus of the song,Holdsworth plays a rather Hendrix style SynthAxe solo-before the song fades out on the double drum rhythm.
“The Dominant Plague” is mid 80’s world fusion at some of its finest. It has the blend of Afrocentric rhythms played in a progressive new wave sonic approach. Holdsworth composition is both passionate and hesitantly chilly from chorus to refrain. I am not at all sure about this. But from its feeling and title, I’ve wondered if this composition was inspired by the HIV/AIDS epidemic than polarizing the world. One can only wonder. The SynthAxe is also used to fine affect here-allowing Holdsworth to sustain notes more than a guitar might’ve. Its my favorite song of his that I’ve heard so far.
Yep, for years this had me pretty fooled. With a title such as ‘Collection’ it instantly implies an anthology. Well it is and it isn’t. What this offers IS a collection in fact,of the two albums Tony Williams and his New Lifetime released in the mid 70’s namely 1975’s Believe It (with which this CD shares the same basic cover art) and the following years Million Dollar Legs. Both albums are very different and both quite special. The term Lifetime has been used not only for Tony’s first acoustic solo album for Blue Note but also for another group he formed earlier in the 70’s.
And so it continued with these albums,this edition of the band featuring Allan Holdsowrth,Alan Pasqua and Tony Newton on bass and vocals were applicable. With years of experience and prestige in Miles Davis’s classic 60’s quintet Williams had the opportunity to keep going nearly indefinitely without the need to prove himself musically. All the same,even before the fusion years Tony Williams was a huge classic rock fan (Beatles,Rolling Stones,etc) so by the time the electric period of jazz/fusion came in he was more than prepped as a musician for the thudding loudness of rock n roll drumming and on all of the tunes here that’s very apparent.
Not only that but this is fusion that takes more cues even than usual from it’s rockier side with Holdsworth laying down some particularly gritty rock guitar solos on crawling,churning heavy jazz rockers such as “Fred”,the intense and tight “Red Alert”,”Mr’Spock” and Tony’s own composition “Wildlife” whereas “Snake Oil” and “Proto-Cosmos” favor a somewhat more funk centered sound with a bit more subtlety. By the time we get to “Sweet Revenge” from the second album presented there was a big change in sound. The thudding rock rhythms and guitar solos were replaced by a streamlined funk/fusion sound complete with horn charts,more prominent synthesizer textures and even pop/R&B style vocals from Tony Newton on “You Did It to Me”.
Now that’s not to say Williams neglected the heavier rock fusion element to his sound as “Million Dollar Legs”,”Joy Filled Summer”,”What You Do To Me” and the extended 9 minute workout of “Inspirations Of Love”, with it’s memorable catchy melody and BAAAAD drum solo from Tony towards the end show that he had absolutely no intention of neglecting his way with jazz musicianship and improvisation. Much as with his old boss Miles,Tony was able to allow huge changes in his music while still maintaining a style that was distinctly his as well as contributing positively to the continuing development of the then still relatively new genre of fusion.
*Review originally posted on November 5th,2010
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