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Allan Holdsworth: Metal Fatigue

Downbeat, September 1985

Bill Milkowski

It is somehow fitting that guitar wizard Allan Holdsworth is now recording with Enigma Records. Nobody can figure the guy out. Is he jazz? Is he rock? Is he a remnant from fusion days (a movement he helped pioneer with such legendary instrumental bands as U.K. and Soft Machine)? His 1984 EP for Warner Bros., Road Games, was nominated for a Grammy as Best Rock Instrumental. Yet, his material is consistently more adventurous than many of today's artists who are labeled "jazz."

Take the cut Home, for instance, or Devil Take The Hindmost. There are more chord changes, substitutions, tempo changes, shifts in dynamics, and honest-to-goodness improvising on those two tunes than on the combined output of Bob James, George Duke, and Wilton Felder over the past few years. Yet, they chart in jazz polls and Holdsworth is left in limbo - neither here nor there.

There is a fervent cult following, however, for this accomplished and innovative artist. His reputation among fellow guitarists is legendary. Such acknowledged axemen as Edward Van Halen, Larry Coryell, Steve Khan, and Carlos Santana have championed his cause, and with good reason. Holdsworth's astonishing technique and scalar approach to soloing (sheets of sound?) mark him as one of the most distinctive guitarists in the world today. And this album should help to further that rep.

The title cut is a tumultuous vehicle for some wicked noise effects, which bite like heavy metal on the intro but segue to a very controlled, melodic ballad with Paul Williams' vocal. Holdsworth takes it completely out to lunch on his solo, playing with astounding technique and spirit. In The Mystery is a nice rock ballad with Paul Korda's Jack Bruce-ish vocals leading the way. But on both these numbers, you wait around for Holdsworth to unleash. Then when he breaks into a flurry and makes his statement, you kind of wish he'd come back and say more.

The instrumental tracks are particularly strong. Of these, The Un-Merry-Go-Round stands as the album's showpiece. A 14-minute suite dedicated to the guitarist's late father, it moves from fiery, fluid lines to ethereal whispers. And rarely throughout it all do you hear a picking sound from the guitarist. His technique is so fast and fluid, so expressive and explosive that he more resembles a burning saxist than a guitarist. Leave it to the technicians to figure out just how he does it. Fact is, it sounds real good.

Holdsworth is in good company here. Chad Wackerman (of Frank Zappa fame) is an exceptionally versatile drummer and Jimmy Johnson (of Lee Ritenour's band) is a nimble bassist with jazz chops. Both are very melodic players on their respective instruments, and yet they still provide the needed foundation for Holdsworth to fly on. And does he ever. No one can fly like this guy -bill milkowski

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

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