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(41:37, MoonJune Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Prelude 1:35 2. Ruhkukah 5:34 3. Low Levels High Stakes 9:06 4. Hard Hat Area 6:05 5. Tullio 6:02 6. House of Mirrors 7:47 7. Postlude 5:28 LINEUP: Allan Holdsworth – guitar, Synthaxe Steve Hunt – keyboards Gary Husband – drums Skuli Sverrisson – bass
Prolusion. The extraordinary English jazz-fusion guitarist and composer Allan HOLDSWORTH was born in 1951. Before starting his solo career he had played with Tony William’s Life Time and Tempest, as well as greats like Soft Machine, Gong, UK and Bill Bruford’s Earthwork. This is a reissue of his eighth studio album “Hard Hat Area”, courtesy of MoonJune Records, a nice-looking digipack with original artwork. Two of the other three musicians performing here, Steve Hunt on keyboards and Gary Husband on drums, are also well known, at least to anyone whose musical horizon includes Jazz-Fusion.
Analysis. Traditionally for Allan, the music on “Hard Hat Area” is created exclusively in his personal, instantly recognizable style, never echoing the bands he has been part of – maybe save some of his soloing lines on a traditional electric guitar. Unlike some of his previous albums, this one doesn’t appear as musical fireworks, but it still features no standard devices, such as ensemble stop-to-start moves with plenty of unison leads or free-form improvisations. In other words, even though the basic or rather initial inspiration is jazz, there is no jazzy looseness here; the seven tracks presented each push the boundary framework, creating real Jazz-Fusion, perhaps at its most cohesive and logical alike. I’ve listened a lot to Allan’s solo albums, such as “IOU” (which means “I Owe You”: noted for non-English readers), “Atavachron” and “Metal Fatigue”, the last of which perfectly blends the quasi-symphonic and jazzier tendencies that prevail on the first and the second of them respectively. “Hard Hat Area” is closer to “Metal Fatigue” (only think side B of the LP), and while Allan’s famous creation the Synthaxe – undoubtedly the most innovative guitar-synthesizer of its day – is not available on all of the compositions, there are still a lot of moves on the recording that are filled with its marvelous sound. Two of the pieces, Ruhkukah and Postlude, are brilliant in all senses, both of them for the most part performed fast. The driving Jazz-Fusion is highlighted by some outstanding and often pyrotechnic guitar and syntaxe work from the maestro himself and the tremendous intensity from both drummer Gary Husband and bassist Skuli Sverrisson, while Steve Hunt’s keyboards play more of a supporting role, adding melodic punctuation without drawing a lot of attention to themselves. It also needs to be mentioned that the bassist more often plays one of the lead roles on the album than the traditional one in the rhythm section. Low Levels High Stakes (9:06, the longest track here) and the title track both strongly vary in pace, as well as structure. The first of them, marked with a more conventional approach to the arrangement, is a kind of showcase performance for each of the musicians, who shine as soloists at its fore in turn, while the latter has a long, yet lush and varied keyboard intro, with string pizzicatos evoking those in classical music. In both cases, Steve Hunt often acts as a central player. Just like Alan Pasqua before him, the keyboardist has flexible thinking, now providing jazzier, now quasi-symphonic leads. His approach to play pianos and synthesizers reminds me most often of Alan’s too, occasionally evoking that of Lyle Mays (a member of the Pat Metheny Group, who also has a few solo albums). Tullio and House of Mirrors are both basically slow-paced, at times verging on atmospheric Jazz-Fusion or even a sort of balladic variation, but the playing is still top-notch, full of thoughtful solos from Allan and Steve. Besides, the Syntaxe just sings here: an approach impossible not to like. Finally, Prelude only features keyboards and guitar, appearing as an ambient piece.
Conclusion. Although inferior to any of the aforementioned albums by Allan, this one is still a high-quality version of Jazz-Fusion which, moreover, is in all senses unique, as ever. Full of compelling melodies and interesting arrangements, the album shows that, while his compositions don’t progress in terms of profundity, they continue to mature, still strongly differentiating his band from any of the other jazz-rock outfits. Recommended!
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: September 1, 2012
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