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Allan Holdsworth: Velvet Darkness

Beat Instrumental, June 1977


A taste of Allan Holdsworth's playing on the fine Gazeuse! album by Gong put me in a state of hungry anticipation for the next course . .. and here it is, served up on this platter which, if anything, is even better. Those, by the way, who have yet to buy Gazeuse! should do so before reading any further.

Allan's career began seriously with a brief stint in Jon Hiseman's Tempest, followed by a year and a half with the Soft Machine. More significant, but perhaps not so well known, was his year as a member of Tony Williams Lifetime - an outfit even Jack Bruce felt privileged to belong to. Just before returning to England, Allan cut Velvet Darkness in New York, with Alan Pasque [sic] (piano), Narada (drums) and ex-Weather Reporter Alphonso Johnson (bass). This album thus pre-dates Gazeuse! by a short margin.

Principally, I think, it will appeal to guitarists. Holdsworth is amongst the frontier-expanding guitar players like Beck and McLaughlin. Though he is capable of the flashy runs up and down the fretboard, and some fine effects, e.g. with the tremolo arm, restraint is the order of the day. Speed is not the sole criterion of musical proficiency, contrary to the opinion of many pyrotechnic freaks. He does not hog the limelight, but occasionally hands over to Pasque [sic] or Johnson; good taste, in other words, rules his playing.

This is especially so on the acoustic guitar tracks, which share 50/50 with the electrics. "Floppy Hat", "Kinder" and "Last May" are arguably the best of the clutch - very gentle, subtle pieces somewhere on the frontier betweeeen jazz and (ahem) classical. On "Karzie Key" we find him playing violin.

Some less accomplished musicians may find Allan Holdsworth a daunting prospect. He's one of that small coterie of players who are so good they make us feel like giving up. Well, don't give up - listen. This is an L.P. that no-one with pretensions to being a guitarist can do without. And you never know - you might even cop a few licks.

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

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