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Thread: AAJ Review: Allan Holdsworth, Live in Japan 1984

  1. #1

    AAJ Review: Allan Holdsworth, Live in Japan 1984



    My review of Allan Holdsworth's Live in Japan 1984, today at All About Jazz.

    The loss of Allan Holdsworth = 7678 in the spring of 2017 remains the passing of one of the most distinctive and innovative guitarists of the past half century. Born in the U.K in 1946, but moving to the U.S.A. in the early '80s, most who are familiar with Holdsworth's work also know how vastly influential he became, almost from the first moments of his mind-blowing appearance on trumpeter Ian Carr's Belladonna[/i] (Vertigo, 1972), but even more so with groups in which he dominated more completely, including relatively short tenures with Soft Machine (1975's Harvest classic Bundled[/i]), Gong (1976's Virgin masterpiece Gazeuse!) and British progressive rock super group U.K. (the superb 1978 E.G. debut, U.K.), alongside slightly longer stints with American drummer Tony Williams' New Lifetime (most notably on its 1975 Columbia debut, Believe It), and British drummer Bill Bruford's first group as a leader, Bruford (documented in Gonzo Multimedia's 2017 box set, Seems Like a Lifetime Ago).

    Sadly, however, the very qualities that made Holdsworth's distinct language and approach to tonal colors resulted in a broader reputation and popular acclaim that slowly eroded over the years, despite the extraordinarily high esteem with which he was held by so many six-stringers, ranging from Kurt Rosenwinkel, John McLaughlin and Pat Metheny to Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani and Dream Theater's John Petrucci. By the time of his too-young passing at age 70, he may have, indeed, been a living legend (with an assured spot in the history of his instrument) to those who knew of him and still tried to follow him, but the popular acclaim and commercial success that largely eluded him from the mid-'80s on meant that he passed away far less known than the household name he truly deserved to be.

    2017's aptly titled, career-spanning box set, The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever (Manifesto) served as a terrific summation as Holdsworth initially focused on electric (and, occasionally, acoustic) guitar but, later, added other instruments to his arsenal, including baritone guitars and the unwieldy Synthaxe guitar synth. That said, it also highlighted the almost pathological perfectionism that plagued (and seemed to relentlessly intensify over time) Holdsworth throughout his career. One need look no further than the fact that his final studio group recording, the exceptional Sixteen Men of Tain (Gnarly Geezer), was released in 2000 (and reissued in 2003, with two additional tracks, by Globe Music), with Holdsworth working on (but never completing) a follow-up in the seventeen years that followed.

    Why was this so? Because Holdsworth's intensely self-critical bent and perfectionist tendencies made it literally almost impossible for him to actually like anything he did. And it's a shame; later in life, the guitarist could often be heard making brief but revealing introductory live comments like "We'll be playing [insert song title]; let's hope I don't screw it up too much." At a powerful 2005 Festival International Jazz de Montréal performance, to a sold-out house, upon telling the guitarist, backstage after the main set had ended, that the crowd was screaming for more, he replied "do you really think so?"

    Continue reading here...
    John Kelman
    Senior Contributor, All About Jazz since 2004
    Freelance writer/photographer

  2. #2
    Howdy Dave (in MA)'s Avatar
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    I would have ranked him higher than 7678th, but to each his own.





    Nice review, thanks!

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    Member bigjohnwayne's Avatar
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    Two very unimportant things I noticed when reading your article while listening to Holdsworth:

    1. That weird indescribable thing he does is a guitar being played to sound like Coltrane on sax.

    2. The guitar tone on the first couple Echolyn albums sounds very much like Holdsworth in the mid 80s.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by bigjohnwayne View Post
    Two very unimportant things I noticed when reading your article while listening to Holdsworth:

    1. That weird indescribable thing he does is a guitar being played to sound like Coltrane on sax.
    Absolutely!

    Quote Originally Posted by bigjohnwayne View Post
    2. The guitar tone on the first couple Echolyn albums sounds very much like Holdsworth in the mid 80s.
    Hmmm! I'll have to go back and listen to them!

    Thanks for that!
    John Kelman
    Senior Contributor, All About Jazz since 2004
    Freelance writer/photographer

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    Orange Tick Squasher Buddhabreath's Avatar
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    Very well written and thoughtful review John. How tragic that apparently he could never bask in the glow of his considerable accomplishments. Thank you.
    The combined fortunes of the world's 26 richest individuals reached $1.4 trillion last year — the same amount as the total wealth of the 3.8 billion poorest people.

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    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    Great review !

    Is it this concert with more tracks & a DVD ?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I.O.U._Live

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    Howdy Dave (in MA)'s Avatar
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    Yes.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Buddhabreath View Post
    Very well written and thoughtful review John. How tragic that apparently he could never bask in the glow of his considerable accomplishments. Thank you.
    Thanks for your very generous and kind words...and you're absolutely right about Allan.

    That anecdote about the Montreal Jazz Festival? That was yours truly backstage, and I really just couldn't believe it. This was a full house at Le Spectrum (capacity: somewhere between nine hundred and a thousand) who clearly knew Allan and his work and was howling throughout the show, screaming for an encore. When I said "I really think you should get back out there," he repeated "really?" As if he just couldn't believe it.

    I knew of his deep self-criticism already, but that really nailed it, as did experiences a couple other times I saw him after that 2005 show, once in Trondheim, Norway, the other time across the Ottawa River in Gatineau.

    So very, very sad. And it ultimately scuttled him from being much bigger than he ultimately was, I truly believe. And despite the kerfuffle near his passing, it's an absolute truth that if Moonjune's Leonardo Pavkovic hadn't encouraged him to start gigging again around the turn of the millennium, I think he might have been almost completely forgotten, barring the really hardcore fans.
    John Kelman
    Senior Contributor, All About Jazz since 2004
    Freelance writer/photographer

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Zeuhlmate View Post
    Great review !

    Is it this concert with more tracks & a DVD ?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I.O.U._Live
    Thanks ... and as Dave said, yes (though the DVD only comes with the first pressing of a thousand). The additional tracks are: Tokyo Dream; Home; Devil Take the Hindmost. Same order as the original unofficial versions, but with Tokyo Dream opening the set and the other tracks sandwiched between Letters of Marque and Material Real.

    Just FYI.
    John Kelman
    Senior Contributor, All About Jazz since 2004
    Freelance writer/photographer

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    Quote Originally Posted by bigjohnwayne View Post
    1. That weird indescribable thing he does is a guitar being played to sound like Coltrane on sax.
    I've read this on occasion but don't hear it. Yes I think the legato lines of AH may be similar to JC's runs, sometimes, in terms of phrasing, almost spitting out a cluster of notes at a time. But the note choices are very different. I never get the same emotional feeling from the two artists. Anyway, help me out. Is there a JC/AH link, beyond phrasing?

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    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jkelman View Post
    Thanks ... and as Dave said, yes (though the DVD only comes with the first pressing of a thousand). The additional tracks are: Tokyo Dream; Home; Devil Take the Hindmost. Same order as the original unofficial versions, but with Tokyo Dream opening the set and the other tracks sandwiched between Letters of Marque and Material Real.

    Just FYI.

  12. #12
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by arturs View Post
    I've read this on occasion but don't hear it. Yes I think the legato lines of AH may be similar to JC's runs, sometimes, in terms of phrasing, almost spitting out a cluster of notes at a time. But the note choices are very different. I never get the same emotional feeling from the two artists. Anyway, help me out. Is there a JC/AH link, beyond phrasing?
    I read once that he wanted to play sax as a child/youngster, but his dad couldnt afford it, so it ended up with a guitar instead.

  13. #13
    Member rickawakeman's Avatar
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    Picked this up (including the DVD) on Friday. Great release! Great review as well.

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    Other than Keith Emerson (my first keyboard hero back in the late 60’s), no other musician’s death left me with such profound, painful sadness as the passing of Allan Holdsworth. He was truly in a class by himself, with his astounding, instantly recognizable creativity, his encyclopedic knowledge of chord structures, blinding speed, and interstellar soloing complexity. I swear that he actually gave me a sore neck at times from shaking my head in amazement at his incomparable guitar playing. It is, indeed, a shame that he never seemed to believe what others said and wrote about him. There will never be another guitar player in his league, IMHO - - -

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by arturs View Post
    I've read this on occasion but don't hear it. Yes I think the legato lines of AH may be similar to JC's runs, sometimes, in terms of phrasing, almost spitting out a cluster of notes at a time. But the note choices are very different. I never get the same emotional feeling from the two artists. Anyway, help me out. Is there a JC/AH link, beyond phrasing?
    Well, other than that Allan was probably influenced more (self-admittedly) by Coltrane than any guitarist. Also, his legato style, when going at light speed, was very much in the same ballpark as Coltrane's "sheets of sound."

    That one moves you and the other doesn't matters not - that's just your ears, your taste. Just because there's a connection between them doesn't mean you have to like both. Plus the contexts are so very different; Allan, still related in some ways to rock music energy, volume, groove; Coltrane, before he went totally free, definitely coming out of the mainstream jazz tradition (albeit stretching it in a big way with his '60s quartet).
    John Kelman
    Senior Contributor, All About Jazz since 2004
    Freelance writer/photographer

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Zeuhlmate View Post
    I read once that he wanted to play sax as a child/youngster, but his dad couldnt afford it, so it ended up with a guitar instead.
    When I was 10 I wanted to play banjo. My grandfather took me to a music store on my birthday, ostensibly to buy me a banjo. The cheapest banjo (this was 1966) was $95; the cheapest guitar, $15.

    I ended up with a guitar
    John Kelman
    Senior Contributor, All About Jazz since 2004
    Freelance writer/photographer

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by rickawakeman View Post
    Picked this up (including the DVD) on Friday. Great release! Great review as well.
    Thank you, kind sir!! It is, indeed, a great release.
    John Kelman
    Senior Contributor, All About Jazz since 2004
    Freelance writer/photographer

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by jeffworman View Post
    Other than Keith Emerson (my first keyboard hero back in the late 60’s), no other musician’s death left me with such profound, painful sadness as the passing of Allan Holdsworth. He was truly in a class by himself, with his astounding, instantly recognizable creativity, his encyclopedic knowledge of chord structures, blinding speed, and interstellar soloing complexity. I swear that he actually gave me a sore neck at times from shaking my head in amazement at his incomparable guitar playing. It is, indeed, a shame that he never seemed to believe what others said and wrote about him. There will never be another guitar player in his league, IMHO - - -
    Add to your list Michael Brecker and, more recently, John Abercrombie and I'm with you. I am loathe to use empiricals, and Allan was certainly in a class by himself. But there are other guitarists who've been as innovative in their own way...and when you consider Bruford's first band, the combination of Holdsworth AND keyboardist Dave Stewart - IMO, one of the absolutely greatest keyboardists of all time for the same reasons you cite for Holdsworth - was a combination that really was unparalleled.
    John Kelman
    Senior Contributor, All About Jazz since 2004
    Freelance writer/photographer

  19. #19
    Member StarThrower's Avatar
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    It's too bad Holdsworth was never a recipient of one of those genius grants that could have afforded him a year off the road to work on an ambitious recording projection. I thought of this often while he was alive, and how unfortunate it was for such a gifted musician to be scuffling at his age.

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    Member chalkpie's Avatar
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    ^True!

    I was spinning some random AH stuff last night and he does things that are beyond comprehension. It's the Human brain at it's most creative.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jkelman View Post
    Well, other than that Allan was probably influenced more (self-admittedly) by Coltrane than any guitarist. Also, his legato style, when going at light speed, was very much in the same ballpark as Coltrane's "sheets of sound."

    That one moves you and the other doesn't matters not - that's just your ears, your taste. Just because there's a connection between them doesn't mean you have to like both. Plus the contexts are so very different; Allan, still related in some ways to rock music energy, volume, groove; Coltrane, before he went totally free, definitely coming out of the mainstream jazz tradition (albeit stretching it in a big way with his '60s quartet).
    John, Yes I agree with all this--and your comments and those of a few others do confirm my suspicion that the Coltrane influence is real, but doesn't apply to what the two musicians want to achieve with the music.

    Just to correct a misperception, though, I love Coltrane and I love Holdsworth. They both move me, just in very different ways and they take me to very different places.

  22. #22
    Still sad about the passing of the brilliant Allan Holdsworth and his struggles, no studio albums after Sixteen Men of Tain.



    .

  23. #23
    Member No Pride's Avatar
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    I used to have this concert on VHS and I still have the album, though had I known these were bootlegs at the time, I wouldn't have purchased them out of respect to Allan. It IS a really great concert! The first time I saw Allan live was a bit before this was recorded and filmed; it was the same cast except Jeff Berlin was playing bass.

    Quote Originally Posted by jkelman View Post
    That anecdote about the Montreal Jazz Festival? That was yours truly backstage, and I really just couldn't believe it. This was a full house at Le Spectrum (capacity: somewhere between nine hundred and a thousand) who clearly knew Allan and his work and was howling throughout the show, screaming for an encore. When I said "I really think you should get back out there," he repeated "really?" As if he just couldn't believe it.

    I knew of his deep self-criticism already, but that really nailed it, as did experiences a couple other times I saw him after that 2005 show, once in Trondheim, Norway, the other time across the Ottawa River in Gatineau.

    So very, very sad. And it ultimately scuttled him from being much bigger than he ultimately was, I truly believe. And despite the kerfuffle near his passing, it's an absolute truth that if Moonjune's Leonardo Pavkovic hadn't encouraged him to start gigging again around the turn of the millennium, I think he might have been almost completely forgotten, barring the really hardcore fans.
    I've seen Allan live at least a half dozen times and witnessed him apologizing to the audience most of those times. It is very sad that he wasn't able to acknowledge his own genius. Apparently he had impossible expectations of himself. Hell, he was 100 times the guitar player I'll ever be, but even I can be satisfied with my playing once in a while.

    Still, I don't think that that's why he was never exactly a household name. His music clearly wasn't for the masses. Jazz makes up about 1% of the music consuming public (at least here in the US) and I have to wonder how much of that 1% was into his music. I personally know several jazz musicians who have never heard his music or knew who he was (of course none of them are guitar players). And I can't help but notice that several people on this forum only like Allan's work as a sideman and can't appreciate his compositions (which I think are mostly brilliant) or his approach to his own music. He was a pure and uncompromising artist who had no interest in commercial success (though I'm sure he would've liked to be less broke than he was).

    That said, if his is a "cult following," it's a reasonably sizable one. "The Unreal Allan Holdsworth" group on Facebook has 15,134 members and there are plenty of people who don't do FB. Whatever... I'm just glad that we had him here on Earth to share his art with us for as long as he did. His music has enriched my life in a way that words fail to express.

  24. #24
    Member StarThrower's Avatar
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    Jazz makes up about 1% of the music consuming public (at least here in the US) and I have to wonder how much of that 1% was into his music.
    I suspect several thousand guitar players, and prog/fusion fans. The last show I attended was in Rochester, NY 2010. It was a club full of a hundred fans, 80 percent male. Allan didn't apologize for anything, but he did audibly curse out a loud mouthed fan who interrupted his solo symphonic chord melody interlude. That pretty much killed the positive vibes, and he ended the show on the short side and headed straight for the bar.

  25. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by No Pride View Post
    That said, if his is a "cult following," it's a reasonably sizable one. "The Unreal Allan Holdsworth" group on Facebook has 15,134 members and there are plenty of people who don't do FB. Whatever... I'm just glad that we had him here on Earth to share his art with us for as long as he did. His music has enriched my life in a way that words fail to express.
    Before Facebook there were at least two forums, one on Allan's own site. He was still alive then but there weren't a whole lot of members. Great times though!

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