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Allan Holdsworth

"25 Who Shook The World"

Guitar Player, January 1992

Tom Mulhern

"It seems I learn more each passing year than I did in the previous twenty."

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH - master of the singing, sax-like electric line - is unusually selfcritical. His restless muse constantly drives him to explore new musical territory - and often causes him to evade praise or disavow past accomplishments in the process. Holdsworth's career erupted with his breathtaking solo on U.K.'s "In The Dead Of Night." His sinewy lead work and incredible legato phrasing drew widespread raves from fellow guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen and Steve Morse and established him as an innovator with a unique sound. Yet in Dec.'80, Allan said, "There's a whole other side of my playing that few people have heard yet. In U.K., I used to lay out a lot. I didn't mind that, because I don't think it's a good thing to play all the time. But I became so frustrated being asked to do only solos."

Ultimately, this feeling prompted Holdsworth to form his own band. The group's first album, I.O.U., introduced the world to the complete Holdsworth, a player who could create intriguing textures as well as mind-bending solos. A decade later, the probing Holdsworth sound is still fresh and intense. "I just try to play naturally," he explains. "I don't analyze what I'm doing; I follow my instincts. Some people are very conscious of what they're doing: 'Oh, no! I played a high note-now I've got to play a low one.' Instead, I try to hear something that makes sense and play that."

To Holdsworth, the essence of magic play cannot be approached rationally: "It's got to be emotional. If I wanted to get into science, I would have been a mathematician. Music has to make you laugh or cry - or both." His desire to master music is all-consuming. "I get great joy from playing," he states emphatically. "I love music with such an overriding passion." Although he's known for his lightning-fast lines, Allan isn't impressed by speed for its own sake: "I don't think music has anything whatsoever to do with how many notes anybody plays." Still, he's not afraid to unleash his intense chops when necessary. "In the past, I've tried be passionate with fewer notes, but at times I like it fiery - that's a different kind of passion."

True to his long-standing ideal of musical growth and self-examination, Holdsworth has decided to modify his trademark legato approach: "One problem with legato technique is that it tends to make you play all the notes running in one direction; that's something I tried to stop doing two or three years ago. Now I try not to play more than three or four notes in one direction. As John Scofield says, it's too easy to let your fingers do the walking."

While Holdsworth keeps pressing forward, he feels there are compelling reasons to investigate the work of previous players: "There are some really deep, really incredible things you can get from the past. A saxophonist coming up now might not have heard anything earlier than Michael Brecker, who's absolutely incredible. But when you go back and hear some of the older guys, you realize that the newer players who tried to sound like them never did sound like them at all. There's something missing. When I go back and listen to Charlie Parker, he sounds unbelievable; it's so fresh. Cannonball Adderley and Coltrane, man, those guys were happening! Go back and have a listen to some of the early Miles Davis albums they played on, otherwise you're going to miss something."

Transcribed by Per Stornes
Updated: February 1, 2001
Scheduled update: None

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