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Thursday, September 7, 2017

21: With a Heart in My Song, None Too Soon

Jump to Music Analysis:

  With A Heart In My Song (1988)

     One of Allan Holdsworth's longest musical partnerships was with pianist-composer Gordon Beck, reaching as far back as the late '60s in London. In the late '70s, just prior to forming his solo band I.O.U, Allan had recorded a couple records with Beck, with the the second one being purely a duo affair (The Things You See). In the late '80s, Beck decided to spend some time in California, and this gave the two of them an opportunity to do another collaboration, this time with Allan playing the SynthAxe (instead of electric and acoustic guitars).

     The resulting album, With A Heart In My Song, was created from multiple tracks of keyboards, SynthAxe, sequencers and some electric guitar, and also features one "solo" composition from each composer. These sessions were being completed and mixed around the same time as Secrets, and so one song, "54 Duncan Terrace", made it onto both albums (and provides an interesting opportunity for comparison). Allan and Gordon had hoped to do a subsequent duo tour, but unfortunately Allan's reputation as a "rock" guitarist ended up becoming a barrier to many venues.
     "I was really looking forward to a European tour that was supposed to follow the release of my latest album with [pianist] Gordon Beck, 'With A Heart In My Song'. We were going to go out as a duo and play material from the album, and I was really excited because it was going to be the only tour I'd ever done where I'd only play SynthAxe - I wasn't going to take a guitar. It was going to be acoustic piano and some synthesizer stuff, with some rhythmic things that were sequenced. The guy from the record company called and told us that when they learned of my involvement, everybody over there said, "Oh, no; that guy's a rock player." It just put them off. I feel really frustrated by that, because I don't really see the music I play as rock at all. I mean, I can see its roots, but I think they must just hear the tone; a somewhat distorted guitar sound, and automatically the music goes right by; all they can think is "Oh, this is rock." It's a weird world." (30)

With A Heart In My Song

Allan Holdsworth: SynthAxe, Guitar
Gordon Beck: Keyboards, synthesizers

Produced by Allan Holdsworth
Recorded May/June 1988, released 1988
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
1 Equus 7:12 (Gordon Beck)

     This light, cheery tune opens up the album in a bright mood, contrasting with the more "nocturnal" opening vibe of Secrets.

0:00: Bouncy theme developed from rising-falling accents supported by bubbling bass synth.
0:21: Reprise (extended ending, then closing reprise)
1:06: Syncopated rhythmic accents and bass synth support brief piano run and then SynthAxe solo (modulating harmony).
3:40: Piano solo, supported by SynthAxe "brass" accents/bubbling bass synth.
4:38: SynthAxe patch crossfades into a more glassy texture (piano solo continues).
6:49: Bridge (with brassy SynthAxe patches), theme reprise (coda).
2 54 Duncan Terrace 5:10 (Allan Holdsworth)
AH: Additional guitar (and SynthAxe)

     The same song was featured on Secrets, but here the arrangement is for multiple layers of SynthAxe and guitar. Allan uses a softer SynthAxe lead tone than he did for Secrets. This is the only song on this album where guitar was used.

0:00: Gentle, clean guitar chords, with reedy SynthAxe lead line, then developed with soft guitar/SynthAxe chords.
0:57: Theme reprise on guitar with reedy SynthAxe lead line variation.
1:12: Piano solo over theme progression (with soft SynthAxe/guitar harmonies).
2:59: SynthAxe solo (reed/winds blended patches) over harmony.
4:37: SynthAxe final flourishes over guitar/SynthAxe (harpsichord) coda sequence, final low drone accent.
3 Ain't No Grief (On the Southwest Chief) 8:12 (Gordon Beck)

     Beck presents a bluesy tune with some traditional chordal cadences, which gives Allan a chance to solo over some more "recognizable" changes. 

0:00: Wry, bluesy opening harmony with SynthAxe "clarinet" lead line, repeated.
1:12: SynthAxe (muted brass patch) lead/solo in top line of bridge harmony.
1:49: Opening theme reprise, extended cadence with ornaments.
2:37: Piano solo (over modulating theme harmony) over funky mid-tempo groove from syncopated accents/ornaments and synth bass.
5:08: SynthAxe solo, fade out.
4 With a Heart in My Song 6:17 (Gordon Beck)

     This tune has a kind of "cheerful spirits" feel, probably due to the choir patches and the slow closing section. The vibe of the middle blowing section also has some bluesy elements.

0:00: Choir harmony and lurching keyboard triplet accents.
0:29: Theme developed into duple meter with SynthAxe ("flute/oboe") in top line.
1:23: Piano solo over modulating theme variations (choir patches eventually resurface).
3:07: SynthAxe solo (brassy/wind patch).
4:48: Held accents lead to piano ornaments and relaxed choir harmony (opening theme variation) with SynthAxe top line, final cadence. 
5 999 4:20 (Gordon Beck - Solo)

     It sounds like Beck programmed a drum machine and then proceeded to layer on tracks, each loosely improvising against the preceding track - some fun rhythmic dialogue over essentially a modal vamp.

0:00: Electronic percussion and lurching synth accents, joined by intermittent "swing hi-hat". Glassy synth accents dialogue with extemporized synth bass.
2:40: Piano enters the mixture.
4:05: Final "alarm clock" cadence.
6 Sundays 3:56 (Allan Holdsworth - Solo)

     This solo Holdsworth composition has a very "classical music" feel to it, with an opening section based on loose counterpoint, and a main section built from slowly modulating block harmonies.

0:00: Bicycle gears, patient SynthAxe "bassoon" melody, joined by "oboe" melody, bicycle gears.
1:04: Theme built from heavy, sustained church organ/choir chords.
2:21: Reprise, bicycle gears.
7 So, So, Calypso 5:28 (Gordon Beck)

     This light jam tune features Allan's most unabashed "bluesy" playing ever. I would almost think it was Gordon playing the SynthAxe "pan-flute" solo...except that there's a piano solo also.

0:00: Bouncy/bluesy theme in glassy keys/bass synth joined by SynthAxe "pan-flute" solo.
2:27: Piano solo.
4:15: Accented bridge.
4:45: SynthAxe pan-flute resumes lead for coda, accented bridge reprise (with final piano flourishes).

Michelle, and None Too Soon (1996)
     Leaping ahead about 8 years, Allan had essentially wrapped up a decade of recording and touring with his main electric quartet (and producing the albums Secrets, Wardenclyffe Tower and Hard Hat Area). However, an opportunity to record a Beatles song for a tribute compilation soon pointed Allan towards a more "trad" direction.
     "I did a compilation album a few years ago where guitar players did their renditions of Beatles tunes. When they called me, I had two days left to prepare something. Coincidentally, Gordon Beck, a good friend of mine - and a great piano player - was staying for a few weeks at my place. It was his idea to do a rendition of "Michelle". Now, I'm a big fan of Gary Willis. Especially when he plays swing, he sounds fantastic. I know the conflicts that may arise between bass players and drummers, so I asked him with whom he liked to play with, and he said Kirk Covington. Funny, because that's half of Scott Henderson's band, Tribal Tech. We did the song pretty fast and I really liked the way things turned out, so I decided to ask them again for my new album (None Too Soon). 
     "I grew up listening to that kind of music (traditional jazz). I was never actually actively involved in playing like, standards or something, so what I would do was – what are the chords, these are the scales – and just play on it. I didn’t have a formula for it – I just played it as if it were an original tune I had never heard before. We thought it was a good idea to show my playing in a different context. Maybe my music becomes more accessible for people if they can recognize the songs? I wanted to establish that a chord sequence is a chord sequence: the fact that one is traditional jazz and the other is from my own music makes no difference. The other thing I wanted to achieve was to play in a traditional context with my usual distorted sound. I think it worked. The other good reason for this choice is that I haven't written enough original material to fill an album"(66, 86, 44)
Allan with an early "Holdsworth" Carvin guitar (H1T) inside "The Brewery".
     None Too Soon was the first album to be recorded entirely in Allan's home studio. In this project, not as much 'room sound' was required for the rhythm section (this same ethos and sound would be found in Allan's next album, The Sixteen Men of Tain). This was the first time Allan had worked with drummer Kirk Covington, but bassist Gary Willis had previously contributed to "The Un-Merry-Go-Round" from Metal Fatigue (1985). During the None Too Soon sessions, Allan overdubbed his solos after the rhythm tracks were first completed.
     "While recording the basic tracks - bass, drums and piano - I just engineered. The basic sound is pretty much traditional: drums and bass play swing. I've tried to keep their sound pretty dry. I also played some SynthAxe here and there. Probably the album sounds more produced than your average jazz album, but that was my intention. I wanted to mold the whole situation to my own thing - without sacrificing the songs, I hope.
     "Kirk plays pretty loud and it appeared impossible for me to set up my stuff without getting serious signal bleed. I could have played straight into the mixing board through a Rockman - I did that in the past. But it happens too often in a studio situation that I'm happy with a live guitar solo and then we can't keep the take because the drummer isn't happy - or vice-versa. That's why I stopped a long time ago to work like this. In the past, I thought that if a solo wasn't recorded live, it's not worth listening to. But it's nearly impossible for everybody to be happy with the same take as a band in a studio situation. While recording the basic tracks, the drummer was the point of reference. If he was happy, we kept the take. Gary Willis did some overdubs here and there, at home, on his ADAT. That took approximately two days. All in all, the basic tracks were finished in three to four days. If I overdub the guitar solo, I try to lock in with the music I'm hearing. In the past, the end result sometimes sounded as if I was just not there. Lately things have been going better and better. It's still improvisation, and that's what's important for me. I think it turned out pretty good and we'll probably end up doing another, but we'll use a real piano next time, as poor old Gordon had to deal with a digital one - something he's not used to at all!" (44, 45)


"Come Together: Guitar Tribute to the Beatles")

(John Lennon, Paul McCartney)
Allan Holdsworth: Guitar
Gordon Beck: Keyboards, synthesizers
Gary Willis: Bass
Kirk Covington: Drums

Produced by Mike Mainieri

0:00: Slow and deliberate main (chorus) theme with guitar in top voice, cadence with piano flourishes. Repeat.
0:42: 2nd theme in mid-tempo walking bass groove, ending piano flourishes, slow main theme reprise.
1:27: Guitar solo over mid-tempo swing using both theme harmonies.
2:23: Piano solo.
3:35: 2nd theme, cadence.
3:59: Slow main theme, developed ending cadence, final synth swell.

The album cover features a beer pump handle.

None Too Soon

Allan Holdsworth: Guitar, SynthAxe
Gordon Beck: Digital piano
Gary Willis: Bass, Fretless bass
Kirk Covington: Drums

Produced by Allan Holdsworth
Recorded 1995

     Although this record was released as an 'Allan Holdsworth' album, it's much closer to an Allan Holdsworth - Gordon Beck Quartet record, and it largely sounds like the songs were arranged by Gordon. In any case, it features some great playing from every band member, and is a fitting climax to Allan's long relationship with Beck. The song choices highlight a different side of Allan's jazz background, but bring a more "modern sound" with the SynthAxe and synthesizer module textures. Some songs are fairly straight renditions, while a couple change the mood into something more unique ("Nuages", for example).
Title Dur Song Breakdown
1 Countdown 3:11 (John Coltrane)

Theme in clean chord melody guitar.
Solos: AH+KC / AH / AH

     Employing the lightning-quick "Coltrane changes" (and derived from Miles Davis' "Tune Up" - but with chord substitutions), this tune is tricky to play through - but Allan has a ball with it. The first guitar solo is an improvisation with the drums only. The second solo (against the Coltrane changes) has Beck's piano support, and the third is a looser trio affair without piano.

0:00: Electronic textures, lead guitar and drums duet improvisation.
0:44: Uptempo chordal theme with cadences.
0:58: Guitar solo (with piano comping), cadence.
2:05: Chordal theme reprise.
2:23: Second guitar solo (no piano). Fade out.

(Original version by John Coltrane)
2 Nuages 5:41 (Django Reinhardt and Jacques Larue)

Theme in electric piano.
Solos: AH (SynthAxe) / AH (Guitar) / GB / AH (SynthAxe)
     "What I wanted to do was my own rendition of something Django had done, rather than try to do something in a way that he might have done it, which I couldn't do anyway. For the introduction I just took and re-harmonized the middle section. Then we just played over the sequence and the melody actually comes at the end. Django was always one of my main inspirations when I was younger. My dad used to have lots of Django records and I thought he was absolutely amazing." (45)
     The melody of Nuages is carried in the keyboard part and only really appears near the end. The original version has a somewhat "wry" mood, but in this arrangement it has a more elegiac vibe.

0:00: Introduction: SynthAxe "reed" tone with "muted brass" chordal accents, harmonized rising-falling figure, developed (based on the B section of "Nuages").
0:44: Guitar solo 1st chorus over swing ballad based on theme.
1:16: 2nd chorus.
1:55: 3rd chorus.
2:28: 4th chorus.
3:02: Piano solo.
4:05: Theme in rising-falling glassy synth chords with SynthAxe flute/reeds solo.
5:13: Ending cadence.

(Electric version by Django Reinhardt)
3 How Deep is the Ocean 5:29 (Irving Berlin)

Theme in lead guitar (after solos).
Solos: AH / GB

     This tune launches straight into the guitar solo and saves the head for the end. It has a very different feel than most other traditional arrangements.

0:00: Drum roll leads directly into guitar solo over song changes.
2:22: Piano solo (a few stray SynthAxe accents).
4:35: Theme in guitar lead, final SynthAxe textures.

(Version by Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee)
4 Isotope 5:42 (Joe Henderson)

Theme in lead guitar/piano.
Solos: GB / GW / AH

     This sardonic and bluesy tune reminds of me of Thelonious Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle" style, and it's interesting to hear Allan tear it up on a song so similar in spirit to one of Coltrane's legendary main collaborators.

0:00: Lively theme (bluesy) in guitar lead and piano over mid-tempo swing.
0:31: Piano solo.
2:25: Head cadence, bass solo over drums and clean guitar comping.
3:42: Guitar solo (piano comps).
5:03: End head cadence, head reprise, developed.

(Original version by Joe Henderson (and Coltrane's rhythm section)
5 None Too Soon
(with Interlude)
7:44 (Gordon Beck)
AH: SynthAxe (Interlude)

Theme in keyboards/SynthAxe.
Solos: AH / Interlude / KC

     This modulating, modal tune is probably closer to Allan's "regular" musical environment than the jazz blues-based changes of most the other songs here. The "Interlude" is entirely an Allan Holdsworth composition.

0:00: None Too Soon Pt.1: Suspenseful pedal harmony with piano flourishes, slow, rising-falling accent chords (doubled with SynthAxe).
1:18: Bridge with subdivided groove.
1:34: Guitar solo (modulating pedal harmony).
4:11: Interlude: Tolling textures, glassy chord accents, brassy accents, muted brass SynthAxe lead line.
5:18: Rising-falling chords/textures.
5:42: None Too Soon Pt.2: Drums return, followed by opening theme reprise, drums featured.
6:55: Bridge (added harmonies), ending cadence/tolling bells. 
6 Norwegian Wood 5:55 (John Lennon, Paul McCartney)

Theme in clean lead guitar, then heavy lead guitar.
Solos: GB / AH

     This swinging arrangement is driven by Gordon Beck's accented/swingy piano style. Allan's solo has some great interaction with the rhythm section in its second chorus.

0:00: Rising/falling piano accents lead to the opening melody in clean lead guitar (with accented rhythms).
1:05: Piano solo (up-tempo swing groove).
2:55: Guitar solo begins over piano accents, theme harmony (piano comps).
4:50: Theme in lead guitar (lead tone)/accented piano, ending cadence, SynthAxe swell.
7 Very Early 7:42 (Bill Evans)

Theme in bass, SynthAxe (after the solos).
Solos: GW / GB / GW

     Jazz-blues ballad highlighting Gary Willis and Gordon Beck.

0:00: Glassy textures leads to electric piano flourishes, fretless bass solo (beginning with theme variation).
1:24: Piano solo over drums and walking bass.
3:47: 2nd bass solo with SynthAxe textures and drums (no piano).
6:08: Head melody in SynthAxe with reedy/muted brass tone, developed.
7:11: Falling cadence harmony, SynthAxe outro flourishes.

(Original version by Bill Evans Trio)
8 San Marcos 3:24 (Gordon Beck)

Theme in SynthAxe.
Solos: GB / AH / KC

     Uptempo burner with the main theme in SynthAxe "brass".

0:00: Fanfare accents, SynthAxe brass theme over up-tempo groove, accented cadence.
0:27: Piano solo.
1:35: Guitar solo (Four 8-bar choruses).
2:29: Fanfare (drum solo over reduced tempo groove).
2:57: SynthAxe brass theme, end cadence. 
9 Inner Urge 6:15 (Joe Henderson)

Theme in lead guitar.
Solos: GW / GB / AH

     This tune has a rhythmically fascinating head melody, but is harmonically based on a blues progression. The band covers this tune in a fairly straightforward rendition. I assume the end message is Allan's voice.

0:00: Theme in lead guitar.
0:29: Bass solo (3 choruses) supported by clean guitar comping/drums. Guitar textures become thicker.
1:50: Piano solo (guitar drops out, 5 choruses).
4:04: Guitar solo 1st chorus (piano comps).
4:30: 2nd chorus solo.
4:57: 3rd chorus solo.
5:21: Theme reprise (variation with some added SynthAxe drone textures).
5:49: End message.

(Original version by Joe Henderson)

     "I was mainly playing my Steinbergers through a couple of Mesa Boogies, one of which is a Dual Rectifier, although I've actually switched to Carvin guitars just recently. Bunny Brunel (bass player, ex-Chick Corea) came over with this amazing Carvin bass guitar. I know they always had this reputation of doing high quality guitars at a lower price and all that stuff, but this guitar was really pretty amazing. Bunny suggested that I talk to them and see if they would make me an instrument. It turned out that they were interested in doing a special one-off custom guitar, but the bottom line was that if they weren't able to make a guitar that I was going to play, then it was no deal. So they came up with several prototypes and they kept changing them and modifying them. I got two of the H1 advanced prototypes just a few days ago and they're absolutely amazing. I'm really happy with them, so that's what I'm going to be playing from now on. I used one for a recording yesterday and it sounded great!" (45)
     Around this time Allan also began working with Bill DeLap's custom headless guitars:
     “When Steinberger (temporarily) folded, Bill DeLap stepped in and made me a number of great wood-bodied headless guitars – including a couple of double-necks (regular/baritone). I used them on Hard Hat Area, None Too Soon and The Sixteen Men of Tain." (64b)
     A little more detail was reported by Chip Flynn on the Holdsworth FaceBook group:
     "The 'shave and a haircut': During the None Too Soon sessions, Allan worked tirelessly trying to get sustain and clarity, and a tone befitting an electric jazz context. He wanted to 'shave' out the rattiness of the upper treble areas.. So he set the DG1000 to zero bass, treble almost off, and high and low mids around 5/6 - took that signal and 'shaved' the treble at 4K, and rolled in more bass with an 1140 TC Parametric EQ. Then he compressed that sound with a DBX compressor and used a noise gate to clamp the note when he lifted his left hand fingers.. This went into a borrowed JCM 800 to his Holdsworth Harness, to a (consumer) Yamaha home stereo amp.. We were on the phone a lot during this period... Allan nicknamed this technique the 'shave and a haircut'. The None too Soon guitar was a Spruce-topped Delap. Allan said the guitar was too soft in sound to gig with."     - Chip Flynn (5/30/17)
Allan holds a headless Bill DeLap guitar here in his studio "The Brewery".
Next: Chad Wackerman
Previous Chapter: Secrets (1989)

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The numbers in parentheses after Allan's quotes above refer to sources listed in the Bibliography

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