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(51:03, MoonJune Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Countdown 3:11 2. Nuages 5:41 3. How Deep Is the Ocean 5:29 4. Isotope 5:42 5. None Too Soon-1-2 7:44 6. Norwegian Wood 5:55 7. Very Early 7:42 8. San Marcos 3:24 9. Inner Urge 6:15 LINEUP: Allan Holdsworth – guitar, Synthaxe Gordon Beck – digital piano Kirk Covington – drums Gary Willis – bass
Prolusion. The Englishman Allan HOLDSWORTH is too famous a person to list even the main landmarks of his – long and fruitful – musical career in each review of his output. Featuring three new musicians (i.e. revealing almost a completely new lineup: see above), “None Too Soon” is a follow-up to Allan’s “Hard Hat Area” project from 1993, the review of which has a more informative preamble.
Analysis. Comprised of nine tracks, this album flows in much more of a straightforward jazz-rock vein than any of Allan’s previous excursions, featuring fewer Syntaxe solos than ever before, at least the bright or rather obvious ones. Overall, it can be stated that the music ranges from classic jazz-fusion pieces to the more traditional sounding jazz workouts, though the latter are in the majority here. Focusing primarily on the improvisational side of things, all of those are swing-based tunes that showcase the talents of the quartet as players, but aren’t that interesting compositionally, containing too many standard jazz devices to really progress in that field. On the other hand, they still manage to deliver enough dynamic contrast and textural variety to avoid total monotony. So it can also be said that the music is straight-ahead Jazz-Rock at its finest, swinging briskly with fiery solos from each of the musicians. Anyhow, not unlike ‘Low Levels High Stakes’ from “Hard Hat Area”, pieces like How Deep Is the Ocean, Isotope, Norwegian Wood, Inner Urge and San Marcos all merely alternate sections with guitar, bass and piano (plus drums on the latter track) improvising solitarily at their fore, while other instruments all play a supporting role. Maybe the goal of these tunes is to show the quartet’s ability to mask complex time signatures behind a standard-working framework? Either way, many of Allan’s solos-tunes are abnormally earthy, if you know what I mean. Within some of the moves the band even appears as a guitar or piano jazz trio, only featuring a rhythm section besides the said respective instruments; in the latter case the music is somewhat reminiscent of the Chick Corea trio – the one with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschulz as Chick’s partners – albeit it’s romantic, if not jovial, in mood. Unlike the previously described tracks (Norwegian Wood the best of them, the one that at least begins and finishes in Holdsworth’s classic style), all of which are mid-to-up-tempo in pace, Nuages and Very Early are ballad-like pieces, and yet they often flirt with swing, too. Thankfully, there are also some well thought-out arrangements, piano-laden ones in both cases. The multi-sectional Countdown is a good, dynamically evolving composition, an alloy of jazz-rock and quasi-symphonic textures, featuring fast guitar and piano leads, agile bass playing and rock-solid drumming. However, only the title track (7:44, the album’s longest item) is really full of elements of the maestro’s trademark style. The music is scripted compositionally, and the players meld into a democratic setting where they all appear as co-leaders. Dramatic and even distinctly dark in places, the piece also showcases Allan’s skill in creating emotions that are perceptible almost physically.
Conclusion. While all of Holdsworth’s previous albums are creations of his own, highly unique approach that strongly differentiated his band from any of the others, most of this one is done in a style that many play in. At least to some degree, it may shock anyone who has been watching Allan’s ascension into the progressive jazz-fusion community, but for those who prefer simpler things, swing-based conventional Jazz Rock included, it is a joyous event not to be missed. In fact, I believe the album was initially destined to the latter category of music lovers.
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