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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

14: Gordon Beck in the '70s

Beck and Holdsworth at l'Espace Cardin, 1979
(Photo: Christian Rose, for Jazz Magazine June 2017)
Jump to music analysis:

     Like Allan Holdsworth, pianist Gordon Beck was an accomplished musician with a strong, personal approach, but also similarly somewhat under-appreciated in his home country. He first established himself with his own jazz trio at Ronnie Scott's in 1965, and subsequently toured internationally with Phil Woods' European Rhythm Machine. In the '70s, he established a successful concert and recording career in France, despite lack of recognition in his own country, England. Beck enjoyed exploring the combination of acoustic piano and electric keyboards (sometimes layered) in his work. A long-running partnership with Holdsworth produced record releases in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, as well Gordon guesting on a couple tours with I.O.U. in the early '80s.

Beck, Holdsworth
Jenny-Clark, Romano
     Beck first heard Allan's playing when Holdsworth's first band, 'Igginbottom, debuted in London in 1969. Their earliest stage collaboration was probably a Marquee concert featuring a large-scale jazz ensemble comprised of ‘Igginbottom members, Beck, drummer Tony Oxley, and the Ronnie Scott Big Band (with arrangements by John Cameron, Beck and Scott). In 1972, when Allan moved to London, he and Gordon briefly recorded together as part of trumpeter Ian Carr's "new" Nucleus ensemble, resulting in the album Belladonna. This encounter led them to share the stage on several other adhoc jazz quartet/quintet dates, many of which were broadcast on the BBC. These concerts include a broadcast from 1977 with John Stevens and Jeff Clyne, a 1979 broadcast with Ray Warleigh, and a 1981 concert with Gary Husband (these BBC radio concerts were covered in the previous chapter).

     Besides radio concerts, during this period Allan also recorded two albums with Beck, Sunbird (1979) and The Things You See (1980). Sunbird saw the duo supported by bassist Jean-Fran├žois Jenny-Clark and drummer Aldo Romano, while Things You See was solely a duet affair (mostly acoustic). Later, Allan claimed to have enjoyed playing on Sunbird, but felt that he never became completely comfortable with the tunes until later in their tour.
     "The sad thing about that, was that we did the album first. My reading's really bad, and they recorded the album before we did the tour... It wasn't music that I was familiar with, or a style of music that I (was comfortable with at the time)... By the end of the tour, at least I'd figured out how I could work my way through it... (anyways) the more I played with Gordon, the more I enjoyed it, because it was a way to check my own progress." (40, 41, 30)
     Allan found the second album with Beck a more relaxing experience, as described in a 1980 interview with the French magazine "Jazz-Hot":
Jazz-Hot: Allan, it's especially for your work with Gordon Beck that the French public knows you well...
Allan: Yes, and it's quite curious, because I've done a lot of things before. And on the other hand, when I started recording with Gordon, I felt quite uncomfortable with this music. I've always been rather ‘jazz-rock’ and Gordon's music had me twisting on a wire. I’m not very happy with what I did on the quartet album (Sunbird)... Our duo record (The Things You See) made me more satisfied. It’s quite paradoxical however, that success came to me with this music that I like very much, but doesn’t quite correspond to my own... - Jazz Hot N° 379-380, December 1980

     As Allan's "senior", Beck's playing probably did much to challenge Allan to reach for greater heights in his own playing at this stage of his development (at least in the jazz realm). Gordon recounts their history in a May 1999 interview:
     "I first met Allan Holdsworth at the Ronnie Scott Club where he was playing with a strange, but very interesting quartet that nobody had ever heard of ('Igginbottom probably). He decided to stay in London and we put a quartet together with Jeff Clyne and John Stevens. This was called "Plough" and the music was totally improvised. This collaboration was extremely demanding but very exciting at times... I love all the various projects that we have been together on e.g. Sunbird", With A Heart In My Song, None Too Soon, etc." 

Musical Analysis: Sunbird
     Allan's first recorded collaboration with Beck can be found on the 1977 free improv session (which Beck refers to above) Conversation Piece , but Sunbird, his first record under Gordon Beck's band-leadership, covers much more ground, from textural material to the piano-jazz club tunes Allan had been playing with Beck and Pat Smythe at the time. On the second side, this album also has Allan in some exotic new musical territory (assuming the Glen South Band only tackled more "up-country" material). It would have been interesting to hear how Allan's playing had evolved by the end of the tour on these particular tunes.

Sunbird (1979)
(All titles composed and arranged by Gordon Beck, recorded June/July 1979 in Paris, Acousti Studio)

Gordon Beck: Electric (Fender) and acoustic piano
Allan Holdsworth: Electric and acoustic guitars, violin
Jean-Fran├žois Jenny-Clark: Bass
Aldo Romano: Drums  
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
1 The Gathering 2:45      Allan's "floating" intro leads to a more "earthly" cool jazz tune. The tune features Allan on both acoustic and electric (lead) guitar.

0:00: Modulating acoustic guitar arpeggios establish a rising harmony figure.
0:30: Piano solo enters with relaxed drums and bass groove (guitar comps).
1:29: Electric guitar solo (lead tone).
2:26: Final cadence and acoustic guitar arpeggios. 
2 Flight:

Part I
6:43      A galloping rhythm and festive head melody give a somewhat "south of the border" flavor to this piece. The guitar solo leads to deft trades with Beck on piano.

0:00: Textural rising figures, leading to a galloping uptempo groove.
0:34: Head in guitar and piano, modulating bridge with piano ornaments, repeat.
1:18: Piano solo over preceding structure.
2:45: Electric guitar solo (lead tone).
4:14: Bass begins walking groove as piano and guitar dialogue.
4:52: Vamp fades out, leading to drum solo.
3 Part II 3:00      This short interlude features Beck's Fender electric piano (no guitar).

0:00: Electric piano accents drive mid-tempo shuffle groove, leading into a cool, but bluesy electric piano solo, reprise piano accents.
2:17: Coda on a held harmony. 
4 Part III 2:49      This starts out as a loose, impressionistic ballad, but leads into "free improv" territory and some fiery (clean) guitar shredding.

0:00: Textural acoustic ornaments (piano, bass, cymbals, clean guitar) develop into a free improvisation.
1:10: Guitar solo (clean tone) featured.
2:02: Piano solo, leading to a brief pause.
5 Part IV 3:14      The galloping texture of Part I is revisited, which then leads to some gymnastic scalar head material.

0:00: Drum groove leads to uptempo 2-chord vamp with piano solo (sparse guitar comping).
1:26: Rapid, scalar head figures on piano and guitar.
2:15: Allan's violin adds some subtle tones as piano solos over vamp, fade out.
6 Halfway House 6:13      A pastoral violin/Fender intro leads to a Beck piano solo, followed by Allan's clean solo over a cool, accented groove, before finally returning to the intro with the full band.

0:00: Gentle Fender electric piano and violin intro theme, joined by textural cymbals, bass.
1:33: Piano ornaments become a thoughtful solo exploration.
3:21: Clean guitar solo over an accented (but broad) modulating groove.
5:37: Intro theme reprise on piano, violin (this time with rhythm section).
7 Sunbird 5:03      This song features a kind of "calypso" groove, certainly new territory for Allan's acoustic guitar solo style.

0:00: Lively, playful piano joined by propulsive bass and acoustic guitar.
0:17: "Tropical" head in guitar and piano, developed, repeat.
1:55: Acoustic guitar solo.
2:50: Reprise of opening piano intro leads to bass solo over cowbell/snare and rhythmic/funky guitar comping.
4:08: Piano intro reprise leads back to main groove.
4:30: Final ornamented cadence accents.
8 Second Summer 6:53      This opens with a "late night" jazz piano rumination, leading to a blues vamp featuring a somewhat bebop-ish clean electric lead from Allan, and a joyful end solo from Gordon.

0:00: Pastoral solo piano theme.
1:35: Descending, accented cadence, joined by drums and bass.
1:53: Guitar solo (clean tone) over bluesy cadence variation.
3:23: Descending, accented cadence, leading to piano solo.
6:03: Descending cadence joined by violin, fade out.

Musical Analysis: The Things You See
     At the end of 1979, Allan and Gordon reconvened to record some tracks as a duo. The resulting album release actually has more Holdsworth than Beck songs, but its stylistic direction still hold more of Gordon's jazz-blues than Allan's more iconoclastic polytonal constructions. Nonetheless, this arena seems to have provided some element of challenge for Allan, and he approached Gordon's more "earthly" harmonies with enthusiasm (this relationship would much later culminate in the '90s release None Too Soon, which also featured Holdsworth playing Beck-arranged jazz standards). On the album The Things You See, Allan plays mostly acoustic guitar, with clean electric guitar tones only on the title track and it's alternate vocal arrangement, "At The Edge" (featuring Allan on vocals). Gordon uses a combination of acoustic and electric keyboards, sometimes overdubbing additional layers.

The Things You See (1980)
(recorded Dec 1979/Jan 1980 in Paris, CBS Studio)

Gordon Beck: Electric (Fender) and acoustic piano
Allan Holdsworth: Acoustic guitars, electric guitar, vocals
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
1 Golden Lakes 4:45 (Allan Holdsworth)

     This is a reworking of an 'Igginbottom melody, for acoustic guitar and piano. The melody also previously appeared on Velvet Darkness' title track.

0:00: Pastoral head theme in acoustic guitar with piano support, repeat.
0:55: Chorus harmony.
1:19: Guitar solo over verse and chorus harmonies (lively tempo accents from piano).
2:44: Piano solo with sparse guitar ornaments.
3:52: Return to pastoral intro theme/groove, final coda ornaments.
2 Stop Fiddlin' 2:53 (Gordon Beck)

     This song features a piano solo from Beck. The lively ending theme would later be used in some '80s I.O.U. performances as thematic brackets for "Drifting Into the Attack" (or "Gas Lamp Blues").

0:00: Bluesy solo piano intro.
0:57: Accented figures begin to surface.
2:12: Rapid, lively, prancing theme, final cadence. 
3 The Things You See
(When You Haven't Got Your Gun)
4:29 (Allan Holdsworth)

     This tune includes a theme "rescued" from Velvet Darkness's "Wish" (near the end). This version for guitars and keys also has an alternate arrangement with vocals in the track "At The Edge". A final electric version would surface on I.O.U.'s debut album, with vocals by Paul Williams. 

0:00: Gentle chord melody head on acoustic guitar with electric piano comping.
0:43: Acoustic guitar solo over mid-tempo piano groove.
1:45: Piano solo.
2:43: Head melody in clean electric guitar.
3:45: Melody (from "Wish") with echoed electric guitar lines, final cadence chord.
4 Diminished Responsability 8:14 (Allan Holdsworth)

     The rhythmic head runs here (derived from Velvet Darkness' "Karzie Key" head) are somewhat reminiscent of 'Igginbottom or Bruford's "tricky dick" moments, but the middle section features thorny unaccompanied solos from each performer.

0:00: Head: Fast rhythmic figures on acoustic guitar and piano lead to modulating chord accents followed by piano and guitar ornaments.
0:47: Reprise opening structure.
1:16: Acoustic guitar solo (unaccompanied and with complex harmony).
2:34: Piano accents enter in a rising harmony (guitar solo continues).
3:12: Head end cadence leads to an a simmering piano solo (unaccompanied), leading to the rising harmony (with guitar comping).
5:45: Head end cadence becomes a jagged piano/guitar improv dialogue.
6:58: Guitar solos over a gentle piano tremolo figure.
7:46: Head figure (some behind the nut/bridge strums), end cadence.
5 She's Lookin', I'm Cookin' 11:54 (Gordon Beck)

     This is a fairly jazzy tune traversed in two tempos. A long acoustic guitar solo from Allan is followed by Beck's keyboard spotlight, which features 3 separate keyboard tracks at one point.

0:00: Relaxed piano arpeggios and acoustic guitar present a pastoral ballad theme.
0:44: Rising rhythmic accents, leading to theme reprise, development.
2:22: Theme structure reprise with additional electric piano layer (bass), developed.
4:49: Acoustic guitar solo over mid-tempo electric piano vamp with walking bass keyboard line.
8:17: Piano solo over same groove.
9:20: Gentle return to pastoral ballad theme texture on 2 acoustic pianos and 1 electric piano.
10:52: Piano solo resumes over mid-tempo el. piano walking bass, fade out on accented motif.
6 At The Edge 3:15 (Allan Holdsworth: vocal, guitars)

     This song (featuring Allan on vocals and overdubbed clean electric guitars) is another arrangement of "The Things You See" (no piano).

0:00: Clean, chordal guitar figures.
0:22: Verse, cadence, verse.
0:47: Transition, verse reprise, transition.
1:31: Descending bridge harmony.
1:51: Guitar solo over verse/transition guitar comping.
2:27: Verse/cadence, transition end cadence.
7 Up Country 4:15 (Gordon Beck)

     The jazzy vamping here is pretty "bar room", but later hits a couple cheerful thematic turnaround vamps.

0:00: Playful, bluesy piano vamping and improv.
1:51: Acoustic guitars enter with playful head, followed by gentle comping.
2:35: Turnaround vamp, joined by electric piano solo, fade out.

A selected chronology of Holdsworth/Beck studio collaborations follows:
  • 1977, Nov:Conversation Piece (w. John Stevens and Jeff Clyne)
  • 1979, June/July: Sunbird (w. J.F. Jenny-Clark, Aldo Romano)
  • 1979, Nov: BBC3 Jazz in Britain (w. Ray Warleigh, John Aue, John Marshall) (unreleased)
  • 1979, Dec (1980, Jan): "The Things You See" (duo)
  • 1981, Dec: BBC Jazz (w. Jeff Clyne and Gary Husband) (unreleased)
  • 1988: With a Heart in My Song (duo)
  • 1996: None Too Soon (w. Gary Willis and Kirk Covington)
"Conversation Piece" was analyzed in Chapter 8, and the two BBC dates listed above were analyzed here. The two later collaborations with Beck are covered in Chapter 21.

Next: Breakthrough, to I.O.U.
Previous Chapter: Holdsworth...and Company (Demos, BBC Jazz)

Go to the Table of Contents... 

The numbers in parentheses after Allan's quotes above refer to sources listed in the Bibliography
For more detailed information on this chapter, see the Annotated Chronology.


  1. Thanks for including Gordon Beck - a very important collaborator of Allan's.

  2. I *loved* Gordon, and I miss him greatly. A kindred spirit and a phenomenal musician.

  3. The head from "Diminished Responsibility" was taken from "Karzie Key" - the bit from 0:12 through 0:18. I've always loved how it was re-purposed here.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out Jeff! I'll update my analysis above.