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Allan Holdsworth - Blues for Tony (2009) Custom CD
This is Allan's third live release on the trot in nearly 10 years. From his 2002 trio tour, with Jimmy Johnson and Chad Wackermen, we had All Night Wrong, which had fine takes of Holdsworth classics, but which was marred by an unbalanced mix in which the drums were at times painfully shrill. Released the same year, after 12 years of begging that a record be left by drummer Gary Husband, we had Then! Live in Tokyo which documents the 1990 tour of the formidable line-up of Holdsworth, Husband and the redoubtable Johnson, along with keyboard whiz Steve Hunt. This is a must have album which showsmore… Holdsworth in particular at his fiery best. Then last year we were treated with the very fine DVD of his new band with Chad Wackerman on drums, Alan Pasqua on keys, and the extraordinary Jimmy Haslip on Bass, Allan Holdsworth And Alan Pasqua - Live At Yoshi's  [DVD], which I reviewed under the title `It gets no better'. Then this CD turns up; same band, pretty much same set list, presumably the same tour, though no recording dates are given. Spread over 2 CDs they're more or less the same duration. I've checked and they look to be different performances. Even a die-hard fan could be forgiven for wondering, I know because I did, just how much I need another live disc of material I already have on an excellent DVD? Well I took a flyer as they say and can now affirm that it was justified, and that indeed `it does get better'.
The key feature of this release is the absolutely killer mix, which is just one in a million perfection. The foundation is Jimmy Haslip's mighty bass which has such a full rich tone that it pumps in the subsonic whilst still providing a rich layer of harmonic counterpoint alongside the upper range instruments. This immaculate bass sound comes at you like a tsunami for the duration of the performance. The other instruments ride on top of this huge wave with perfect balance between the three, no one getting in any one else's way. The result is an 80-plus minute set that requires you to strap in to the biggest armchair you can find, and hang on tight whilst the music sweeps your hair back into the void behind you. It's probably worth taking your socks off first if you don't want to lose them in the Aether.
Also of note with this CD is that, to my ears at least, the group interplay has evolved some way beyond that of the DVD. Of course there are many magnificent solos on the album, but the stuff between the solos is in fact just as interesting. This makes for a rounder, more directed musical experience, the tracks being more than just a plod round a chord sequence, with people taking turns to solo. I find myself reminded of Weather Report at their best when listening to these passages.
Then there's this bloke Alan Pasqua. He's turned up here and there at previous points in Holdsworth's career, but one has to acknowledge that he didn't get an equal billing on the DVD for nothing. Not quite half the tunes on this set were penned by him, and his contribution to the overall sound at least matches Holdsworth's. A curious irony is that Holdsworth is a man who has spent much of his career trying to make his guitar sound like anything and everything else, but who has now settled in to his trademark smooth and creamy legato. Meanwhile we have Pasqua who, through the use of what sound like some reassuringly expensive effects, seems determined to make his keyboards sound like the most tortured guitars. Another point of this disc over the DVD is that there was a grand piano on hand which adds a welcome extra dimension to the sound palette.
And then there's Chad Wackerman, who is such a thoughtful, intelligent drummer. On the DVD he makes what he does look so simple, but that's because he does the clever stuff with such subtlety, spending as much time leaving space for his band-mates as he does taking a fully equal part in the interplay between the melodic instruments.
Finally Allan himself. He's almost unobtrusive, stood at the far left of the ensemble, but still providing the whole reason for the band being up their. After re-listening to Then yesterday, I would say that he is actually slowing down. I can almost hear some of the details of what he's doing on this album, rather than the incandescent blur with occasional identifiable notes spitting out of it from his earlier years. Yet this is not a criticism. He remains the Paganini, strongly inflected by Bela Bartok. of our age. And the prospect of a mellower Holdsworth does not mean a less musical Holdsworth. Allan has always been a victim to his own ludicrously high standards, sometimes on the verge of giving up music altogether because of his frustrations, particularly in his endless search for the perfect sound, the one that has the sustain that you get with distortion but `without the hair'. I can only hope that now, having seemingly settled on a reliable sound, that he is allowing himself to relax and enjoy himself with this perfect band.
|1||Blues for Tony|
|3||It Must Be Jazz|
|2||To Jaki, George and Thad|
- Allan Holdsworth - Blues for Tony (2009) Custom CD
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- 29/01/10 by pontiacc
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