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Thursday, September 14, 2017

23: The Jazz-Rock Gunslinger: Truth In Shredding, Heavy Machinery, and More

Allan in the studio with Level 42.
(Photo: Patrick Eden Photography)
     Allan Holdsworth first met guitarist Frank Gambale while his own band was sharing tour dates with the Chick Corea Elektric Band (who Frank was playing with at the time). They ultimately cultivated a lifelong mutual admiration for each other's playing. Gambale made his initial mark on the guitar scene through his dazzling displays of sweep-picking technique (essentially runs employing rapid, cleanly-articulated arpeggio figures and large interval leaps) as well as his usage of modal harmony in his electric jazz explorations. Producer Mark Varney (brother to Mike Varney, who had helped I.O.U. when they first arrived in California) had Gambale prepare an album of modern fusion "standards" with a live band, leaving room for Allan's solos to be overdubbed at Allan's home studio, The Brewery. Allan ended up contributing four guitar solos and three SynthAxe solos, and mixed the entire album. This was released in 1991 as MVP: The Mark Varney Project: Truth in Shredding. A great interview with Mark Varney reminiscing about that period can be read here. The grooves on this album are generally uptempo and swing-based, but with an electric edge.

MVP: The Mark Varney Project:
Truth In Shredding (1991)  

Frank Gambale: Guitars
Allan Holdsworth: Guitar, SynthAxe  
Steve Tavaglione: Saxophones, E.W.I.  
Freddy Ravel: Keyboards  
Jimmy Earl: Bass  
Tom Brechtlein: Drums  

Musical concept and executive produced by Mark Varney  
Produced and arranged by Frank Gambale.
Mixed by Allan Holdsworth.
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
1 Rocks  6:51 (Randy Brecker)
The original version can be heard here.

FG: Guitar
AH: Guitar

0:00: Drums into uptempo mutant-funk vamp, harmonized head, cadence.
1:03: Keys and guitar trade bars, ascending cadence.
1:54: Frank's solo over a modal pedal and accented cadence, developed, cadence.
4:04: Allan's guitar solo.
4:43: Allan 2nd chorus solo.
5:22: Allan solo over developed bridge, cadence harmony.
6:01: Cadence, head, cadence/coda.
2 Humpty Dumpty 6:23 (Chick Corea)
The original version can be heard here.

FG: Guitar
AH: SynthAxe

0:00: Head over fast swing beat, then with synth "horns" (probably EWI).
0:36: Frank's solo over descending/modulating jazz harmony.
3:14: Allan's SynthAxe solo (reed/brass patch) over a more relaxed groove, then building back up.
5:45: Head reprise on guitar, then with brass.
3 Fall 8:03 (Wayne Shorter)
The original version can be heard here.

FG: Acoustic guitar
ST: Soprano sax
AH: SynthAxe

0:00: Ballad alternating between accents and a relaxed mid-tempo groove.
1:06: Frank's acoustic guitar solo.
2:40: Steve's soprano sax solo.
4:45: Allan's SynthAxe solo (filtered reedy patch with some attack).
6:52: Head reprise (accents/grooves).
4 Not Ethiopia 9:21 (Michael Brecker)
The original version can be heard here.

AH: Guitar
JE: Bass
ST: Soprano sax
FG: Guitar

0:00: Opening motif with harmonized guitar, thorny uptempo head, bridge, head, transition.
1:12: Allan's guitar solo over a modulating pedal, cadence.
2:15: Allan's 2nd solo chorus.
3:30: Jimmy's bass solo.
4:44: Steve's soprano sax solo.
5:59: Frank's guitar solo (accented groove).
9:05: Head sequence reprise.
5 New Boots 6:15 (Frank Gambale)

FG: Guitar
AH: Guitar

0:00: Accented head over a fast swing beat.
0:56: Frank's guitar solo (harmonized) over an uptempo walking bass jazz harmony (modulating).
2:57: Allan's guitar solo.
5:20: Head sequence.
6 Ana Maria 8:51 (Wayne Shorter)
The original version can be heard here.

AH: SynthAxe
FG: Guitar

0:00: Piano flourishes over pedal harmony, guitar/brass-driven head over a mid-tempo groove.
0:41: Piano ornaments back into head, developed.
1:42: Rock guitar riffs lead to Allan's SynthAxe solo over modulating head changes.
4:58: Guitar/brass-driven head, rock guitar riffs, head developed.
6:25: Franks guitar solo (fade out).
7 Bathsheba 8:02 (Michael Brecker)
The original version can be heard here.

AH: Guitar
FR: Keys
FG: Guitar
TB: Drums

0:00: Uptempo head over a Latin swing groove, relaxed cadence, head reprise, cadence.
1:07: Allan's guitar solo over Latin jazz bubbling bass groove.
2:46: Head cadence, Freddy's electric piano solo, head cadence.
4:43: Frank's guitar solo.
6:22: Tom's drum solo.
7:36: Head sequence.

     A similarly-assembled record was Allan's collaboration with keyboardist Jens Johansson and drummer Anders Johansson (from neo-classical shred guitarist Yngwie J. Malmsteen's band, Rising Force). However in this case, all of the compositions were composed by Jens Johansson. As with the the Truth In Shredding album, Allan added his solos to the Johanssons' rhythm tracks at his own studio. A good interview with Jens Johansson about the making of this record can be found here.

     If None Too Soon was Allan's "jazz standards" album, and Truth In Shredding his "fusion standards" album, then Heavy Machinery is essentially his "prog/boogie rock" album. The solo accompaniments here are mostly based on modal pedal vamps or blues progressions, so it's interesting to hear Allan apply his ideas to this environment. His playing here hadn't really been this "bluesy" since the Tempest days. The Japanese release also has a bonus track, but Allan doesn't play guitar on it. It's hard to tell if any SynthAxe is on the record, but none of the synth leads sound like Allan at least.

Anders Johansson, Jens Johansson & Allan Holdsworth:
Heavy Machinery (1996)

Allan Holdsworth: Guitar solos on 1-5, 7-9
Jens Johansson: Keyboards, bass synth
Anders Johansson: Drums

Recorded in Sweden, California and New York
Mixed by the Johansson Brothers
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
1 Joint Ventures 5:490:00: Heavy pedal vamp with funky overtones.
0:41: Keys solo.
1:16: Bass break over modulating cadence, pedal vamp.
2:09: Guitar solo over pedal vamp, modulating cadence.
3:34: Keys solo with organ accents, pedal vamp with held harmony (shouting).
2 Beef Cherokee 4:03 0:00: Uptempo, lurching bass synth riffage with slow minor key harmony.
1:03: Guitar solo begins over frenetic riff.
1:47: Guitar solo is "digitally repeated" (from 1:03) as drums, organ and bass fade out into clean guitar arpeggios.
2:33: "Live" guitar solo resumes over main groove.
2:56: Keys trade solo bars with guitar, guitar solo continues.
3:30: Drums cadenza, clean guitar elements return.
3 On the Frozen Lake 4:52 0:00: Fast funky keys, joined by drums and bass synth.
0:26: Accented pedal bass with slow harmony, then funky again. Harmony returns.
1:45: Synth lead with drum cadenza, accented bass synth and drum solo featured.
3:21: Main funk grove resumes, new accented groove.
3:45: Guitar solo over funky pedal and subtle harmony.
4:37: Funky solo keys.
4 Mission: Possible 5:16 0:00: Slow boogie with bluesy keys/organ ("a blues in 11/4"). Major key blues lead in keys and organ tones.
2:29: Guitar solo (slightly harmonized) over vamp, then blues groove, modulating. Tempo increases to a fast boogie. Guitar continues as rhythm section fades out.
5 Good Morning, Mr. Coffee 7:25 0:00: Funky, uptempo pedal vamp joined by keys. Syncopated break.
0:51: Keys solo over vamp.
1:56: Groove modulates with piano accents added, back to vamp, keys solo resumes over groove variations.
3:26: Slow boogie vamp driven by bass synth/cymbals, joined by keys solo.
4:53: Guitar solo over accented mid-tempo vamp (some piano textures).
5:55: Keys solo over modulated harmony/groove. Guitar solo resumes and trades sequences with keys. Final percussion elements.
6 Siouxp of the Day 4:02 0:00: Soft synth chords joined by lively drums.
0:44: Frenetic bass-driven groove. Soft synths resume without groove. Drums and bass return briefly and then disappear again. Synth fantasia with drum rolls resurfacing into a cadenza.
3:29: Frenetic bass resumes.
7 On the Fritz 5:25 0:00: Mid-tempo, accented 7/4 vamp driven by organ, interspersed with lead cadences.
1:09: Bass/synth ostinato layers, accented vamp/cadences resume, ostinato returns.
2:11: Guitar solo (processed) over looser groove (bluesy modulations).
3:58: Accented pedal/ostinato layers return, lead cadences.
8 Tea For One and a Half 6:22 0:00: Relaxed rising bass vamp with drone organ textures, eventually becoming a funky groove.
0:59: Keys lead melody, bridge, theme reprise.
1:58: Bridge 2 held harmony, modulations to bluesy keys lead.
3:35: Guitar solo over pedal vamp, bridge 2 bluesy harmony.
4:44: Rising bass vamp with jazz organ solo.
9 Never Mind Our Weather 5:54 0:00: Heavy riff vamp with organ/synth layers.
0:40: Accented bass with held high textures, back to riff vamp, then accented riff.
1:39: Guitar solo over heavy riff, accented bass vamp (repeat).
3:01: Organ solo starting from accented bass vamp.
3:42: Electric piano solo.
4:48: Accented bass vamp with high texture held harmony, heavy riff, drum cadenza, etc.
10 Macrowaves 24:55
or 1:09
0:00: Electric piano flourishes/arpeggios, modulating
2:50: Silence
23:45: Held keyboard layers joined in the middle by frenetic drums and bass synth.
11 The Moose Are Marching (bonus track) 7:59 0:00: Mid-tempo tom-based groove with bass vamp, joined by held synth layers.
0:58: Keyboard head and solo (with sporadic texture effects). Groove modulates and keys adapt different patches, ending in watery sounds.

     Some other albums including Allan's contributions from around this period (and from many different genres) are annotated below (regarding Allan's guitar/SynthAxe parts). For example, the earlier "SOMA" album (1986) featured Allan in his pre-Atavachron days sitting in on progressive rock/pop songs, at times reminiscent of Frank Zappa or Asia. Allan's lead guitar can be heard on five tracks, but "The Grand Pajandrum" has the most substantial Holdsworth soloing on the album.

     Additionally, in the early '90s, long-time I.O.U. drummer Gary Husband was playing with fusion-pop band Level 42, led by slap bassist Mark King. Through this connection, Allan was engaged to record guitar parts for the album Guaranteed, and joined them on a few UK dates while they looked for a new permanent guitarist (ultimately Jakko Jakszyk). The 2nd half of a radio broadcast of one 1990 Hammersmith Holdsworth-assisted show can be found online.    

Mark Lauren,
Guy Eckstine,
David Shawn:
  • No Better Time Than Now: 1:45: 8 bar solo, textural effects (?) in final chorus.
  • Foray: 2:00: Lead guitar dialogue with verse/chorus.
  • Because Always Comes The Moment: Lead guitar ornamental motif for each verse (starting from 0:39), 3:30: Outro rave up solo lines.
  • A Little Hair Action (w. Walt Fowler): Lead guitar ornaments, 2:20: Brief guitar duel with keys.
  • The Grand Pajandrum: Lead guitar in opening melody, developing into a winding guitar riff, substantial guitar solos at 2:57 and 4:40.  
Strange Advance:
The Distance Between
  • Who Lives Next Door: Lead guitar ornaments subtly scattered in the background.
  • Alien Time: Lead guitar ornaments from 1:58 and from 4:38 (solo "proper" at 5:13).
Level 42:
Guaranteed (1991)
  • Seven Years: 2:56: Brief guitar ornament, 3:57: Outro solo.
  • A Kinder Eye: Guitar lead featured in theme top line, substantial outro solo from 4:30.
  • She Can't Help Herself: 2:24: Lead guitar line in bridge melody, returns at 4:45 for outro solo and final cadence.
  • If You Were Mine: Opening guitar lead line, ornaments for chorus, 3:37: Guitar solo, riffing.
  • With A Little Love: 1:06: Guitar solo (brief).
Steve Tavaglione:
Blue Tav (1990)
  • Tsunami (w. Vinnie Colaiuta): Uptempo, brass-driven boogie, thorny guitar solo begins at 1:20, followed by some lightly-scooped guitar comping, funky riffage, SynthAxe solo at 2:58.
Love In Peace
(Amour Empaz) (1991)
  • Dream Sequence: Improvisation w. Dick Crouch (vibr.), Geoff Castle (keys), Ron Mathewson (bass) (this info is pure conjecture since the credits are unclear and I don't have this).
Andrea Marcelli:
Silent Will (1991)
  • Final Project (w. Wayne Shorter, John Patitucci): Opening guitar/SynthAxe lead line (duet with Shorter's sax), 2:01: Substantial guitar solo over modulating pedal, 4:38: Guitar returns for another brief duet with Shorter's soprano sax, then rising lead line, 6:06: SynthAxe and Patitucci bass duet cadenza.
  • Love Remembered (w. Wayne Shorter, John Patitucci): 6:14: Substantial guitar solo over mid-tempo accented groove to end.
  • Lights (w. John Patitucci): SynthAxe opening cadenza, 2:00: SynthAxe solo.
Jeff Watson:
Lone Ranger (1992)
  • Forest Of Feeling: 1:46: Guitar solo, 3:35: Jeff (left) and Allan (right) trade solos.
Andrea Marcelli:
Oneness (1993)
  • Moon (w. Kei Akagi): Opening guitar lead melody, 2:11: Guitar solo to end. Allan used the "Boris" (36" scale) DeLap baritone guitar for this track.
  • You Have To Wait (w Gary Willis): 2:42: Guitar solo, with some processing.
Suffer (1995)
  • Gongzilla: Opening harmonized guitar motif, lead guitar top lines in various sections, lead line and solo from 4:58 to end.
  • Bad Habits: Solo at 1:00.
  • Almost You: Solo at 2:57.
  • Allan Qui?: Solo at 2:29.
Gorky Park:
Stare (1996)
  • Don't Make Me Stay: Solo at 3:43.
Steve Hunt:
From Your Heart
And From Your Soul (1997)
  • Wring It Out: Lead lines, substantial solo over modulating harmonies from 0:52.
  • Funnels: Holdsworth composition arranged for solo piano (from Atavachron).
  • Belle Faccia: This tune is a solo piano arrangement of "Dodgy Boat", which was originally recorded on Holdsworth's Wardenclyffe Tower.

Next: Sparking the Wardenclyffe Tower
Previous Chapter: Chad Wackerman 

Go to the Table of Contents... 


  1. An excellent detour through the brilliant collaborations from the period...The Wardenclyffe Tower beckons.

    1. Thanks Jim! It was nice to take a little detour but Allan's albums are "the ones".