Allan Holdsworth
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Allan Holdsworth

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Recorded twelve years before his latest release, the similarly-live All Night Wrong, and at the same location in Tokyo, guitarist Allan Holdsworth demonstrates that while he's come a long way in the ensuing years, there's absolutely no reason not to look back at archival material such as this and stand in awe of a stylist who has singularly redefined the potential of his instrument. Then! captures Holdsworth and his band, keyboardist Steve Hunt, bassist Jimmy Johnson and drummer Gary Husband, during a three-night club date in 1990 when sparks were flying.


Holdsworth's reputation as a perfectionist has kept this performance out of the public eye for all too long, and so kudos is due to Chris Hoard and Derek Wilson of Alternity Records for ultimately convincing him to release it. One wonders just how many other recordings are sitting in the can, and how much coaxing it will take to get Holdsworth to release them. Shows like this would go a long way in satisfying Holdsworth fans, and keeping their interest in the long space between studio releases.

One of the immediate pluses about Then! in comparison to All Night Wrong, which is a trio disk, is the presence of Hunt. Using many of Holdsworth's original synthesizer patches, the group is able to pull off tunes from Holdsworth's Synthaxe period, including “Atavachron” and ”Non-Brewed Condiment,” with no loss of orchestral richness. Holdsworth has always had a personal sound on synths, and while Hunt clearly has his own playing style, having the Synthaxe patches available help keep the proceedings well within Holdsworth's sonic universe.

Any misgivings Holdsworth may have had about his performances on this date are purely his own; there's nary a misstep during the entire performance, and Holdsworth executes his signature blinding legato runs with the apparent ease and personality that make him an often emulated but never copied guitar hero. With compositions that date as far back as the mid-'70s Alan Pasqua tune, ”Proto-Cosmos,” from his time with the New Tony Williams Lifetime, and an instrumental version of ”White Line” from his I.O.U. days, Holdsworth is in stellar form.

But as much as Holdsworth's own compositions dwell in their own harmonic space, what may be the most revealing tracks on Then! are the three “Zone” pieces, group improvs that bookend the recording and break it up in the middle. Rarely settling into any semblance of rhythm or groove, these are more textural works that demonstrate a group with its own take on free improvisation. While his style is clearly his own, Husband's debt to Tony Williams is clear, and it's difficult to imagine that the chops-laden Jimmy Johnson has also been the simple groove-meister of singer James Taylor's band for over ten years.

Then! captures Holdsworth at one of his many high points. With a new studio record in the making, and a two-disc compilation of his past work imminent on Alternity, Then! provides another perspective of a guitarist who has, quite literally, reshaped the face of the instrument.

~ John Kelman - All About Jazz


Tonight at the Barbican, London, when John Scofield pits his sophisticated wits and considerable muscle against a younger generation of 21st-century fusion players with Uberjam, audiences will get an awesome earful of one course of evolution for a middle-aged guitar star who grew up on 1970s jazz-rock crossover. But Bradford-born Allan Holdsworth - a former member of Tony Williams's Lifetime, Bill Bruford's bands and late-edition Soft Machine, as well as a composer and group leader - seems to prefer to stay in the sealed room he's inhabited since his emigration to the US in the 1980s.

Holdsworth is a mind-bogglingly virtuosic guitarist who plays in a dense legato style that some have compared to the hurtling torrents of John Coltrane's saxophone sound. On this live set, his atmospheric ambient-chord sounds over cymbal washes are very dramatic (check the elegiac violin-like long meditation on Above and Below) and the range of his melodic imagination backed by storming technique is always breathtaking. If you track-hop and listen only to the way a Holdsworth improvisation initially builds while the rhythmic feel is still quite loose, he always sounds astonishing.

But the appropriately-named former Frank Zappa drummer Chad Wackerman is a relentlessly histrionic performer who locks the music resolutely into a 1970s jazz-rock feel - before a new generation of open percussionists made much more fluid dialogues between the ambiguities of jazz- time and the backbeat-marking of a groove. As a rare Holdsworth live disc (from his 2002 Japanese tour) regular fans will kill for it, but for the unconverted there's just too much unbroken heavy-metalwork and wall-to-wall drums - The Guardian


Whether it’s Charlie Christian drawing inspiration from tenor giant Lester Young, or John McLaughlin channeling the spirit of John Coltrane, guitarists of all stripes have been infatuated by the endlessly inventive improvisations and tonal complexity of modern saxophone masters. However, the guitar is obviously a lot different from a saxophone. To get anywhere near that ideal with a plank of wood and six strings is a Herculean task, because guitarists don’t have the steady stream of wind that a horn player uses to nimbly deliver lines that dance across measures with an Astaire-like grace. And then there’s the tone—guys like Cannonball Adderley and Charlie Parker produced some of the most expressive, organic timbres you’re ever going to hear from any instrument.

Well, Allan Holdsworth not only mastered horn-like phrasing and tone, but he managed to do it whether he used Gibsons, Fenders, Charvels, Steinbergers, tube amps, or solid-state amps. And, unlike many other players seeking bell-like sounds, Holdsworth didn’t plug an archtop into a Polytone and call it a day. He copped his horn timbres by using distortion—which he hates, by the way—and tremolo bars, and by avoiding picked notes. By sheer force of will, Holdsworth created one of the most identifiable guitar voices in modern music. That, my friends, is why he’s a bad-ass of the highest order—and we’re only talking about his solo tone.

Beginning with his 1982 release, I.O.U., Holdsworth introduced an otherworldly chordal style that relied on tightly- clustered intervals and expansive voicings that was previously unheard of. His instructional book, Reaching for the Uncommon Chord, is essential food for any guitarist looking to move beyond the norm. The guy is a giant.

His latest album, All Night Wrong [Favored Nations], was recorded live to stereo at Tokyo, Japan’s Roppongi Pit Inn. And even though Holdsworth hates live recordings, there is no better setting to hear a modern master at work.

You’re not a big fan of live records. Why?
Well, I have a problem known as “red-light fever.” If I know the gig is being recorded, I’ll just fall apart. Couple that with the fact there are hundreds of bootlegs of my gigs out there, so it’s like, why bother? Also, I kind of believe that a live show is an event that’s only meant to be experienced by the people who happened to be there at that point in time.

Did you record multiple shows?
We were going to record two nights. But, unfortunately—and much to my horror—when we returned the second night, the engineers had torn all the mics down. I don’t know if they were paranoid about them being stolen or what, but I’ve worked in studios where people have been fired for moving mics. We thought about setting them up again, but I just lost it and said, “Forget it.”

Is there anything you do before a gig to put yourself in the best headspace to improvise?
There are two things, but they’re not always easy to do. I like talking to the fans, but, before the gig, I start thinking more about their concerns, rather than my own. I can’t empty my head. So if it’s possible, I’ll go to a corner café and hide. Then, I won’t have to talk to anyone. The other thing I like to do is to put my hands in a bowl of hot water. I used to just sit and play the guitar before I went on, but I’d find myself falling into all these patterns and things I didn’t want to play. So rather than predicting any particular motion with my fingers during warm up exercises, I’ll just wiggle them in hot water until they’re loose. I also like the way the water makes my skin feel. The moisture gets into my skin, and I can grab the strings better.

Do you ever get into prolonged ruts?
Oh, yeah. I hit a dry spell when I was going through some personal stuff over the past four years, but that affected my composing more than my soloing. I felt my improvising during that time was okay, and I’d occasionally hear stuff that I’d never played before. But to compose, I have to sit down with a guitar and focus, and when things aren’t as I want them, it’s very easy to get scatterbrained and drift from one thing to another—which results in a cycle of non-productivity.

I’ve never heard you cite any compositional influences.
Most of them are classical composers such as Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Copland, and Bartok—particularly his string quartets. I still can’t listen to Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” because, if I do, I’ll cry [laughs]. I can’t get past the first two bars. It’s really weird, man. It tears me up. What I took from those guys was how their tunes make me feel in my heart. It’s about the emotion, rather than what the piece actually is. I think that’s because I want to be influenced, which is a whole lot different than trying to work out precisely what someone is doing.

Do you hear solo lines in your head before you play them?
I wish I could hear a solo in my head from the very first note to the very last, but they kind of go their own way. I c - Guitar Player Magazine


Discography

AS A LEADER

"VELVET DARKNESS" 1976 CTI/KING/1990 EPIC ASSOCIATED (LP,CD)
"VELVET DARKNESS" 1994 KING-JAPAN/1997 CTI-JAPAN (CD)
"I.O.U." 1982 LUNA CRACK/1985 ENIGMA (LP,CD)
"ROAD GAMES" 1983 WARNER BROS./2001 GNARLY GEEZER (EP,CD)
"METAL FATIGUE" 1985 ENIGMA (LP,CD)
"ATAVACHRON" 1986 ENIGMA (LP,CD)
"SAND" 1987 RELATIVITY (LP,CD)
"SECRETS" 1989 INTIMA (LP,CD)
"WARDENCLYFFE TOWER" 1992 RESTLESS (CD)
"WARDENCLYFFE TOWER +3" 1992 POLYDOR-JAPAN (CD)
"BEST WORKS COLLECTION" (COMPILATION) 1992 JIMCO-JAPAN (CD)
"JUST FOR THE CURIOUS-INSTRUCTIONAL" 1993 CPP MEDIA (CD)
"HARD HAT AREA" 1993 POLYDOR-JAPAN (CD)
"HARD HAT AREA" 1994 RESTLESS (CD)
"NONE TOO SOON" 1996 POLYDOR/VERVE FORECAST(CD)
"I.O.U. LIVE" 1997 PURPLE PYRAMID (CD)
"THE SIXTEEN MEN OF TAIN" 1999 POLYDOR-JAPAN (CD)
"FLAT TIRE-MUSIC FOR A NON-EXISTENT MOVIE" 2001 MEGAZOIDAL (CD)
"ALL NIGHT WRONG" 2002 SONY (CD,SACD)
"THE SIXTEEN MEN OF TAIN (SPECIAL EDITION)" 2003 GLOBE MUSIC MEDIA ARTS (CD)
"THEN!" 2003 ALTERNITY/2003 UNIVERSAL-JAPAN (CD)

WITH GORDON BECK

"SUNBIRD" 1979 DISQUES JMS (LP,CD)
"THE THINGS YOU SEE" 1980 DISQUES JMS (LP,CD)
"THE THINGS YOU SEE/SUNBIRD" 1994 DISQUES A.G. (CD)
"WITH A HEART IN MY SONG" 1988 DISQUES JMS (LP,CD)
"DREAMS" 1989 DISQUES JMS (CD)

WITH JACK BRUCE

"A QUESTION OF TIME" 1989 EPIC (LP,CD)

WITH BRUFORD

"FEELS GOOD TO ME" 1977 EDITIONS E.G. (LP,CD)
"ONE OF A KIND" 1979 POLYDOR (LP,CD)
"HELL'S BELLS" 1980 E.G. (EP/45 RPM)

WITH BILL BRUFORD

"MASTER STROKES" (COMPILATION) 1986 E.G. (LP,CD)

WITH IAN CARR'S NUCLEUS

"BELLADONNA" 1972 VERTIGO/1990 LINE/2003 UNIVERSAL-JAPAN (LP,CD)
"DIRECT HITS" (COMPILATION) 1973 VERTIGO (LP)

WITH STANLEY CLARKE

"IF THIS BASS COULD ONLY TALK" 1988 CBS/PORT. (LP,CD)
"THE COLLECTION" 199? CASTLE (CD)

WITH COME TOGETHER

"GUITAR TRIBUTE TO THE BEATLES" 1993 N.Y.C. (CD)

WITH CYMBIOSIS MAGAZINE

"VOLUME 1-#1" 1986 CYMBIOSIS (CASSETTE)
"VOLUME 2-#1" 1988 CYMBIOSIS (CD)

WITH ENIGMA VARIATIONS

"ENIGMA VARIATIONS" (COMPILATION) 1985 ENIGMA (CD)
"VOLUME 2" (COMPILATION) 1987 ENIGMA (LP)

WITH FRANK GAMBALE

MVP-"TRUTH IN SHREDDING" 1990 LEGATO (CD)

WITH PIERRE MOERLEN'S GONG

"GAZEUSE" 1976 VIRGIN (LP,CD)
"EXPRESSO" 1977 VIRGIN (LP)
"EXPRESSO 2" 1978 ARISTA (LP,CD)
"TIME IS THE KEY" 1979 ARISTA/1991 GREAT EXPECTATIONS (LP,CD)
"WINGFUL OF EYES" (COMPILATION) 1986 VIRGIN (CD)

WITH GONGZILLA

"SUFFER" 1995 LOLO (CD)

WITH GUITAR ON THE EDGE

"VOLUME #1" 1992 GUITAR ON THE EDGE (CD)
"VOLUME #2" 1992 GUITAR ON THE EDGE (CD)

WITH GORKY PARK

"STARE" 1996 M.I.R. (CD)

WITH GUITAR'S PRACTICING MUSICIANS

A.HOLDSWORTH,J.WATSON-"PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC" 1989 GUITAR (CD)

WITH STUART HAMM

"RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH" 1988 RELATIVITY (LP,CD)

WITH HERBIE HANCOCK

"V.S.O.P.-TOUR NARRATIVE" 1977 COLUMBIA-PROMO (LP)

WITH STEVE HUNT

"FROM YOUR HEART AND YOUR SOUL" 1997 SPICE RACK (CD)

WITH IGGINBOTTOM

"IGGINBOTTOM'S WRENCH" 1969 DERAM/1988 DERAM-JAPAN (LP,CD)

WITH JON ST. JAMES

"TRANS-ATLANTIC" 1984 EMI AMERICA (LP)
"FAST IMPRESSIONS" 1986 ENIGMA (LP,CD)

WITH ANDERS JOHANSSON & JENS JOHANSSON

"HEAVY MACHINERY" 1996 HEPTAGON (CD)

WITH KROKUS

"CHANGE OF ADDRESS" 1986 ARISTA (LP,CD)

WITH LEVEL 42

"GUARANTEED" 1991 RCA (CD)
"GUARANTEED" 1991 RCA (CD-SINGLE)

WITH ANDREA MARCELLI

"SILENT WILL" 1990 VERVE/FORECAST (CD)
"ONENESS" 1992 VERVE/FORECAST/1994 LIPSTICK (CD)

WITH ALEX MASI

"ATTACK OF THE NEON SHARK" 1989 ENIGMA/METAL BLADE (LP,CD)

WITH PAZ

"LOVE IN PEACE (AMOUR EMPAZ)" 1991 MASTER MIX (CD)

WITH ESTHER PHILLIPS

"CAPRICORN PRINCESS" 1976 KUDU (LP)

WITH JEAN-LUC PONTY

"ENIGMATIC OCEAN" 1977 ATLANTIC (LP,CD)
"INDIVIDUAL CHOICE" 1983 ATLANTIC (LP,CD)
"LE VOYAGE-THE J.L. PONTY ANTHOLOGY" 1996 RHINO (CD)
"THE VERY BEST OF JEAN-LUC PONTY" 2000 RHINO (CD)

WITH SOFT MACHINE

"BUNDLES" 1975 HARVEST-E.M.I./1990 SEE FOR MILES (LP,CD)
"TRIPLE ECHO" (COMPILATION) 1977 HARVEST-E.M.I. (LP)
"LAND OF COCKAYNE" 1981 E.M.I./1996 ONE WAY (LP,CD)
"THE UNTOUCHABLE" (COMPILATION) 1990 CASTLE (LP,CD)
"BEST OF THE HARVEST YEARS" 1995 SEE FOR MILES (CD)
"BBC RADIO 1971-1974" 2003 HUX (CD)

WITH SOFT WORKS

"ABRACADABRA" 2003 UNIVERSAL-JAPAN (CD)

WITH SOMA

"SOMA" 1986 OCCIDENTAL/1992 HEADING WEST (LP,CD)

WITH JOHN STEVENS

"TOUCHING ON" 1977 VINYL/1990 KONNEX (LP,CD)
"CONVERSATION PIECE PART 1 & 2" 1980 VIEW/1991 KONNEX (LP,CD)
"RE-TOUCH" 1983 VIEW/1993 KONNEX (LP,CD)

WITH STRANGE ADVANCE

"THE DISTANCE BETWEEN" 1988 EMI (LP,CD)
"WORLDS AWAY & BACK" 199? EMI MUSIC CANADA (CD)

WITH STEVE TAVAGLIONE

"BLUE TAV" 1990 CREATCHY-JAPAN (CD)

WITH TEMPEST

"TEMPEST" 1973 BRONZE/1996 ONE WAY (LP,CD)
"UP & ON/GREY & BLACK" 1973 BRONZE-WARNER BROS.-JAPAN (45 RPM)

WITH U.K.

"U.K." 1978 E.G./POLYDOR (LP,CD)
"IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT" 1978 POLYDOR (45 RPM)
"RADIO SPECIAL" 1978 POLYDOR-PROMO (LP)
"U.K./DANGER MONEY/NIGHT AFTER NIGHT"

Photos

Bio

"Holldsworth is a giant."
- Guitar Player Magazine

"Holdsworth is the best in my book. He's fantastic. I love him...What I can do on two hands, he can do with one."
- Eddie Van Halen

"He�s the leader in a field of one. "
- Bill Bruford

"His technical prowess...is phenomenal"
- John McLaughlin

"Allan has something totally beautiful."
- Carlos Santana

"Allan Holdsworth changed the way people play the electric guitar, both musically and physically. He is a true genius."
-Joe Satriani

"Allan is one of the greatest guitarists ever...his work changed everything for guitarists everywhere." - Pat Metheny

"One of the most interesting guys on guitar on the planet is Allan Holdsworth. I really respect his playing. " - Frank Zappa

Allan Holdsworth is widely regarded by fans and contemporary musicians as one of the 20th century's most prominent guitarists. He is one of a handful of musicians who has consistently proven himself as an innovator in between and within the worlds of rock and jazz music. Many of music's best-known instrumental masters cite Holdsworth as that rare and shining voice - a legendary player who continues to push the outer limits of instrumental technique and the electric guitar's range of tonal and textural possibilities.

Particularly during the 90s, Holdsworth has enjoyed the recognition so many musicians strongly feel he deserves, given that he has developed his career outside the big label mainstream and has consistently produced his own recordings with complete creative control since the mid-80s. Despite the uncompromising nature of Holdsworth's predominantly genre-defying solo projects, he's no stranger to all-star jazz festival line-ups or large venue rock audiences.

Musician Magazine placed Holdsworth near the top of their 100 greatest guitarists of all time. There's never been a shortage of media attention or acclaim for Holdsworth's accomplishments and originality. An inductee of Guitar Player Magazine's Hall of Fame, Holdsworth is a five-time winner in their readers poll.
Beyond his ability in improvising mercurial solos and sculpting the guitar's voice into an ever-expanding range of textures and colors, Holdsworth has dedicated his energies to develop many different aspects of guitar technology. This has included new baritone variations of the instrument, his own custom 6-string designs (one most recently manufactured by Carvin), the invention of electronic components for the recording studio, and exploring the possibilities of guitar-based synthesizer controllers. Holdworth's ability to improvise over complex and challenging chord voicings always reveals a deep emotional base and a strong, imaginative personality that is as instantly identifiable as any among Holdsworth's generation of guitar and jazz masters. The sounds of Django Reinhardt, Jimmy Rainey, Charlie Christian, Joe Pass, Eric Clapton, and John Coltrane were among this English musician's early inspirations when he began to work professionally as a musician in his early twenties.

Born in the city of Bradford, England, Holdsworth had been extensively tutored in aspects of musical theory and jazz appreciation by his father, an accomplished amateur musician. Holdsworth paid his musician's dues early on working the dance-club circuit, where he began to meet fellow musicians who hailed from the south. One of England's best jazz tenor saxophonists, Ray Warleigh, heard amazing potential in Holdsworth's playing and brought him along to participate in jazz sets at the onset of the 70s, including sessions with Ray at Ronnie Scotts in London. Holdsworth's career brought him to international audiences suddenly in the early 1970s, when he joined drummer John Hiseman's short-lived but much acclaimed progressive rock band, Tempest. A decade later, Tempest vocalist Paul Williams would team up with Holdsworth again to form Holdsworth's IOU band and create their independently-released debut recording, which prompted Holdsworth to move his home from London to Southern California.

Holdsworth's career throughout the 70s saw a series of feast-or-famine periods all too familiar to many of the most talented musicians. By 1975 Holdsworth had developed a reputation as one of England's best, underrated guitarists in what was then the avant-garde of English instrumental music ensembles, thelegendary group, Soft Machine. Holdsworth's trademark sound is evident with a technique that routinely soars with supersonic intensity, and one of its earliest available samplings can be heard on the 1974 Soft Machine studio release, Bundles. While his reputation in Soft Machine attracted international audiences, he also gained the attention of one of jazz's greatest drummers, the late Tony Williams, known for his pivotal role in bringing Miles Davis to explore rock-based riffs and motifs in an improvisational context. Holdsworth recorded on one of the most celebrated fusion albums from the mid-70s,