Allan Holdsworth "Hard Hat Area"

Allan Holdsworth
"Hard Hat Area"
MoonJune Records

CD review by Roger-Z (09/15/12)

Genius. A word I rarely use. According to guitar master Gil Parris, "Most musicians are born and then develop. Allan Holdsworth was hatched complete!" Recently, Moonjune Records digitally re-mastered and re-issued the 1993 classic, "Hard Hat Area." This CD heralded a new direction for Holdsworth. He backed off on the synth and baritone guitar and focused more on regular guitar. And for the first time, he recorded mostly live in the studio with his touring band -- Gary Husband on drums, Steve Hunt on keyboards, and Skuli Sverrison on bass. Additionally, the group refined the material on the road before entering the studio.

Allan Holdsworth presents his compositions to band members in a very unique fashion. He plays the tune and gives absolutely no direction. He requires the musicians to come up with the parts completely on their own. He copped that from playing with The Tony Williams Lifetime.

Holdsworth's "liquid gold" guitar tone results from his attempt to emulate the attack and tone of the saxophone, most notably John Coltrane's sheets of sound. On this CD, he used refrigerator-sized racks to deprecate the sound of the pick and generate sustain. Holdsworth utilizes large interval leaps and shuns the blues. At times, he sounds like an oboe on steroids! At other times, I picture a slithering eel, with fangs open, racing in for the kill. He also plays the SynthAxe, a little keyboard laid out like a guitar neck.

The whole album shimmers with colors reminiscent of Debussy and Ravel, especially the quasi-orchestral "Prelude" and "Postlude." The funky "Ruhkukah" approaches more traditional jazz-fusion. The band grooves like crazy. Imagine Rush, but faster, more precise, more sophisticated, and more intense! "Low Levels, High Stakes" features Steve Hunt on piano in an atmospheric, laid-back setting. Skulli Sverrison delightfully tickles the bass with a very conversational solo. The title track opens with an intervallic, synth melody that conjures up the sound of construction. It then morphs into an almost gospel-like chord progression followed by oboe-guitar, mechanical drums, and funky bass. Soon, Holdsworth storms down an endless shower of power riffs. "Tuillio" starts gently enough but the guitar soon launches atomic sheets of sound. The song bears a striking resemblance to Santana's "Waves Within" from "Caravanserai." The atmospheric "House of Mirrors" features dreamy synth work along with snaking guitar.

Frankly, I have never heard anyone play like Allan Holdsworth. He distills classical, jazz, and fusion into a unique brew of music. Recording this project after they honed it on the road makes all the difference in the world. According to the liner notes, even the notoriously hypercritical Allan Holdsworth likes it!

2012 Roger-Z