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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

26: The Sixteen Men Of Tain (1994-99)

Album Artwork: Mark Gleed

None Too Soon
     In 1994, Allan had the opportunity to do a Beatles cover ("Michelle") with long-time collaborator and pianist Gordon Beck, supported by returning "guest-bassist" Gary Willis and new drummer Kirk Covington (both from Scott Henderson's Tribal Tech band). From late '94 through Spring '95, Allan and the "Michelle" quartet also recorded an album of jazz standards, None Too Soon (previously covered in the last Gordon Beck chapter), which was the first Holdsworth album to be recorded entirely at Allan's newly-rebuilt home studio. This was largely a one-off project, as the ensemble never actually toured to promote the album (although the Hard Hat Area band did tour in 1995). Unfortunately, the album's release had some distribution issues, and was not available in America until late 1996. However, the album's more "trad" elements apparently did get Allan to start thinking about songs for a new album with a similar, less "electric" aesthetic.

Touring with Dave Carpenter and Gary Novak
     With most members of the Hard Hat Area band busy in 1996, Allan decided to collaborate with in-demand LA session bassist (6-string electric and acoustic) Dave Carpenter and drummer Gary Novak (from Chick Corea's band). In contrast to Jimmy Johnson's melodic single-note support and Skuli Sverrisson's funk-tinged attack, Carpenter's 6-string bass style was somewhat closer to Jeff Berlin's Road Games comping style, but more supportive of the chordal modulations implied. For example, oftentimes Carpenter incorporated a walking bass/chord-comping style to his playing. To balance out Carpenter's thick harmonic approach, Novak's drums frequently approached the songs with an Elvin Jones-like "field of sound" percussion texture. In other words, Novak tended to imply a jazz "pulse", as opposed to accenting each chordal articulation (which was often encouraged in Allan's earlier albums). This new "jazzy" approach was strikingly apparent in live renditions of classic songs like "Looking Glass", etc...

     Reportedly, by February 1996, scattered live dates with this trio were already under way, and initial recording sessions were begun in 1997 (a few '97 gigs also featured Chad Wackerman (Umea Jazz Fest) or Peter Erskine (NAMM) on drums, but the Carpenter-Novak rhythm section was essentially Allan's main band for the second half of the '90s). At this point, live setlists (example below) began including several new songs.
  • The Sixteen Men Of Tain
  • Looking Glass
  • Chordal Improvisation solo
  • Above & Below
  • Water On The Brain
  • Funnels
  • Letters Of Marque
  • Tokyo Dream
  • House Of Mirrors (solo by Dave Carpenter)
  • Shallow Sea
  • 0274
  • Texas
  • Proto Cosmos
  • Zone/Material Unreal
  • Low Levels, High Stakes
Warsaw Summer Jazz Days 1998:

     Although Allan was without a record deal during this time, the early Holdsworth-Carpenter-Novak trio was fortunately recorded on a few professional broadcasts, which can be found on YouTube:

     In the late '90s, Allan continued to play the DeLap headless guitar, amplified through a Yamaha DG1000 pre-amp, Yamaha DG-80 amps and two Rocktron Intellifex processors (55). Allan also experimented with the Roland VG-8 guitar processor (notably on the harmonized chordal head of "The Sixteen Men of Tain"). In order to use the VG-8, Allan's guitar had to be fitted with a GK synth pickup, which fed 6 individual string signals to the programmable Roland VG-8 guitar emulator. The Roland VG-8 essentially takes the electric guitar signal and applies various effects in order to emulate different amplifier and pickup combinations. It can also apply drastic EQ changes to emulate non-guitaristic timbres such as saxophone, etc... This set-up also acted as a de facto "stereo delay" when mixed with the guitar's normal pickup output.
     "It's just like an extension of the guitar. You're not dealing with any modules where you have to figure out how to control the envelopes and all that stuff. Instead, you can manipulate the input from a single pickup guitar like I use and make it sound like a three-pickup Strat or two single coils or an acoustic guitar. It just adds all these extra colors that are guitar-based. And there are no time delay problems that I can perceive. It's like using an EQ or a phase shifter. If I mix the VG-8 signal with a straight signal, it'll be synchronous. And since I use two stereo amp setups, I can send the straight signal to one rig and the VG-8 patch to the other rig, which really sounds good." (84)
     By 1997, Allan also began adding custom Carvin models to his arsenal of DeLap's and Steinbergers.
     "I've been playing a custom guitar that I designed for a company called Carvin. It's a hollow guitar, kind of like a closed semi-acoustic. The top and the back don't touch any part of the wood on the inside except at the bridge. So it feels a lot like an acoustic guitar except that it's closed, there's no holes. You can squeeze a little more dynamics out of that kind of instrument than a solid body. It's what I needed for the direction that I wanted to take. I’ve used various prototypes and production models – including some special H2Ts with custom Roland pickups for use with the VG System that has flat radiuses to match the necks on my guitars. 
     "I've also been using Steinbergers, which I still have. I'm very fond of Steinbergers. It's actually hard to go back to a guitar with headstock and tuners on it after you've played a Steinberger. You kind of get spoiled. And I also play the custom-made guitars by Bill DeLap, which look like Steinbergers. They're headless. But they're wood as opposed to plastic, which the real Steinberger is." (47, 64b)
Holdsworth Gear in 2000: Carvin Fatboy with Roland GK synth pickup, 2 Yamaha DG80-112s, 2 DG80 extension cabs, dbx Project 1 compressor/gate, ADA delay, 2 Rocktron Intellifexes, TC Electronic Boost, Roland VG-8 processor system, Korg and Boss volume pedals, Carvin FET450 power amp
(from GuitarOne July 2000)

The Sixteen Men of Tain
     In 1999, the trio with Carpenter and Novak finally released The Sixteen Men of Tain on independent mail/internet label Gnarly Geezer (an expanded re-release in 2003 on former U.K. bandmate Eddie Jobson's Globe Music Media Arts label added new opening and ending tracks). Tain has a good mixture of complex song structures, looser improvisatory sequences, and long, enigmatic, modulating harmonies designed for complex "polytonal" soloing. In fact, two songs, "The Sixteen Men of Tain" and "Texas", actually have more than one set of blowing changes. "Tain" has a bass solo over the head changes, and then a separate modulating harmony for the guitar solo. "Texas" has a main set of changes for the guitar solo, but the trumpet solo's final chorus is actually a variation of the song's head.

     Dave Carpenter's acoustic bass and Gary Novak's polyrhythmic stick-work also seems to have inspired some more "swinging" grooves. Not only that, but on two songs Allan invited guest trumpeter Walt Fowler to sit in. Fowler had played with Allan a few years prior on one of Chad Wackerman's solo albums (The View), and was friends with Carpenter and Novak.
     "We did two tours of Europe with that group (and some gigs in the States). So after the end of the touring, I felt like I needed to record it. I had lost my record deal, so my manager loaned me the money to pay the guys to do the record. So we recorded it in like, one weekend, and then I shelved it, and sat it on the back burner until I got a record deal - which was about a year and a half later on this new small label (Gnarly Geezer). Then I went ahead and finished it. 
     "I knew that I was trying to refine this electric guitar sound and I felt this would be a really good backdrop for me to write some original music for, and have the intensity in the music, but have a slightly different texture to it, you know, a softer kind of feel. The fact that Dave Carpenter played acoustic bass was nice, because I was like 'Maybe it would be nice if you played acoustic bass on this record.' That's the beauty of it as well, because he - like a lot of the other bass guitar players I've played with - he plays a lot. If you put Dave on bass guitar, he's playing all the time, and he plays chords - I keep telling him I'm going to buy him a 1-string bass guitar! So giving him the acoustic bass was great. It was a good element to have, and I think it also added something to the sound, which is also important to loads of people's perception of it." (52, 48)
     Interestingly, Carpenter first recorded 6-string electric bass for several tracks on The Sixteen Men of Tain, but these were later replaced by acoustic bass (as noted in Chris Hoard's liner notes to The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever).
     "The title ("The Sixteen Men of Tain") comes from one of the (album) tracks. I used that because I like the sound of it. The first track ("0274") is a bit darker, but the title track has a sort of festive feel to it, a carnival kind of thing. When I think of that kind of thing, I think of alcohol. In Tain there's a famous (Scottish) distillery called Glenmorangie, and there's supposedly only 16 men who work there. On the bottom of every (whiskey) bottle it says 'Handcrafted by the 16 Men of Tain'. I liked the idea of a hand-crafted, high quality thing that is a single malt, and I think there's something of that in the album... I liked the way it turned out... Since then, I did another album with Gary Husband and Jimmy Johnson. I'm holding that one back cause this one only just came out!" (52, 53, 48, 49) 

The Sixteen Men of Tain

Allan Holdsworth: Guitar, SynthAxe
Dave Carpenter: Acoustic Bass (except 1, 5, 9)
Gary Novak: Drums (except 7, 9)
Walt Fowler: Trumpet (2, 6)
Chad Wackerman: Drums (7)

Produced by Allan Holdsworth
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
(All songs composed by Allan Holdsworth, except as indicated)
1 San Onofre
(2003 bonus track)
5:48 AH: Guitar, SynthAxe
Gary Novak: Drums

AH: Guitar
GN: Drums

     This 2003 bonus track opens with a somewhat cinematic SynthAxe prelude. This is followed by a duet between Allan and Gary Novak, cued by SynthAxe harmonies.

0:00: SynthAxe layers over a dark pedal harmony.
0:24: Drums enter as SynthAxe textures eventually develop into a more ethereal harmony, punctuated by brief sound textures.
1:01: Guitar lead enters over modulating SynthAxe harmony.
1:39: Guitar and drums duet, supported by intermittent SynthAxe pedal chord accents.
3:04: Octavider/harmonizer effect added to guitar lead at different points.
4:42: Final pedal harmony.
5:07: Drum solo (brief), rocket sound effects.
2 0274 7:41 AH: Guitar
Dave Carpenter: Acoustic Bass
Gary Novak: Drums
Walt Fowler: Trumpet

AH: Guitar
WF: Trumpet

     This tune has a fairly developed rhythmic structure, and reminds me of some of Allan's multi-part themes of the early '80s ("White Line", "Where Is One?"). The complex solo sequences are punctuated by a 2-chord vamp, which provides a nice "resting point" after all of the harmonic modulations. The album version features Fowler's trumpet solo, but live, Dave Carpenter would usually take the second solo.

0:00: Rising and falling pastoral chord melody.
0:30: Chord-melody short reprise.
0:44: Modulating cadence with arpeggios.
1:06: Theme reprise, break, accented chordal vamp.
1:36: Main solo harmony sequence begins: broad chord modulations, rising cadence, developed with arpeggios, accented chordal vamp.
2:37: Guitar solo over modulating harmony (clean guitar comping), accented vamp.
3:33: 2nd guitar solo chorus.
4:32: 3rd guitar solo chorus.
5:31: Trumpet solo.
6:29: 2nd trumpet solo chorus (partial).
6:55: Previous cadence developed with arpeggios.
7:13: Opening theme variation (coda).
3 The Sixteen
Men of Tain
6:23 AH: Guitar (and SynthAxe)
Dave Carpenter: Acoustic Bass
Gary Novak: Drums

DC: Acoustic Bass
AH: Guitar
GN: Drums

     This "festive" tune is notable for the swinging "walking bass" portions of the guitar solo sequence (alternating with a rising harmony sequence). These swing grooves would also surface in the "Zone" improvisations they performed. The chordal head parts employ the Roland VG-8 guitar system in order to harmonize the top 4 strings up a 5th.

0:00: Accented (harmonized) 3-beat chordal motif, cadence.
0:25: Reprise (developed).
0:40: Evenly-accented seesaw chord-melody.
0:54: Acoustic bass solo over previous theme structure.
1:35: Accented seesaw chord-melody reprise.
1:52: Guitar solo over rising cadence (with SynthAxe sweetener textures), swing groove begins (as SynthAxe drops out).
2:36: 2nd guitar solo chorus (rising cadence/walking swing groove).
3:17: 3rd guitar solo chorus.
4:02: 4th guitar solo chorus.
4:41: Opening cadence, chordal motif with drum cadenza, cadence.
5:33: Chordal motif, accented seesaw chord-melody, end cadence with added SynthAxe textures.
4 Above and
3:05 AH: Guitar (and SynthAxe)
Dave Carpenter: Acoustic Bass
Gary Novak: Drums

     "I went to see John Scofield when he was playing at Musicians Institute in California about five or six years ago. Gary Willis was playing bass with him and it was beautiful and incredible. Then I went home and wrote this piece of music called 'Above and Below,' which took me a few days to complete. And that was a direct result of hearing him play, although it sounds nothing like how he plays." (62)

     Despite the Scofield inspiration, there is no guitar solo on this piece. However, not since "Home" (from Metal Fatigue) had Allan delivered such a complex and beautiful theme. In live renditions, Allan typically preceded this tune with an extended solo chord-swell improvisation. The "reprise" later on the album features a SynthAxe solo.

0:00: Opening chords.
0:15: Pastoral chord-melody ballad, cadence, rising cadence.
1:32: Pastoral ballad, cadence, ending cadence variation.
2:39: Thematic swells, final pedal chord.
5 The Drums
Were Yellow
5:55 (Duo Improvisation 'For Tony')

AH: Guitar
Gary Novak: Drums

     "It's me with an octavider! I just turned it on and off during the solo. Originally I tried it with a harmonizer, but that was too slow and it just sounded messy, so a friend of mine lent this thing to me. It's no good for playing chords, so any time I wanted to play chords, I'd turn it off." (54)

     Tony Williams played a yellow drumkit, hence the song title. When Allan first stayed with Tony in New York in 1975, they spent many nights just duetting in Tony's townhouse. One imagines that this is a tribute to those formative times.

0:00: Broad chord melody theme, accented theme.
0:17: Repeat 1st section.
0:31: Clean, octavider solo run, developed chord melody.
1:21: Accented theme, broad chord melody theme variation.
1:47: Clean, octavider solo run, chordal comping with rhythmic accents.
2:27: Lead guitar tone enters (long duet with drums).
5:29: Thick, swirling SynthAxe textures.
6 Texas 5:41 AH: Guitar
Dave Carpenter: Electric Bass (head sequence), Acoustic (solo sequence)
Gary Novak: Drums
Walt Fowler: Trumpet

AH: Guitar
WF: Trumpet

     This piece was performed live for many years, and has a fairly thorny harmony in the solo section, although they are rhythmically-punctuated mid-chorus by some fanfare-like 4-beat cadences. When performed live, Allan would take a few choruses, play the accented cadence chords, and then play a "coda" solo segment over the B and C theme sections (where the trumpet plays in this recording) - this 'double solo' would often confuse the audience as to when they should applaud...! 

0:00: Drum roll into heavy intro motif, chord-melody A theme with syncopated cadence.
0:21: B theme with modulating chord fragments.
0:36: C theme with clean lead tone and accented cadence.
0:49: Chord-melody A theme reprise.
1:04: Guitar solo (electric bass replaced by acoustic, opens with SynthAxe accents, followed by soft comping).
1:36: Solo continues over accented cadences.
2:00: 2nd guitar solo chorus.
2:50: 3rd guitar solo chorus.
3:45: Trumpet solo (clean guitar comping).
4:35: 2nd trumpet solo chorus (accented cadences replaced by B and C theme harmonies). This section would also act as Allan's "2nd solo" when the group played as a trio.
5:11: Chord-melody A theme final reprise, final arpeggio.
7 Downside
7:03 (Chad Wackerman)

AH: Guitar (with Roland VG-8)
Dave Carpenter: Acoustic Bass
Chad Wackerman: Drums

Solo: AH: Guitar

     Chad: "I loved Allan's approach to my song 'Downside Up' on this record. We recorded it at his home in Vista as a duo with the bass part sequenced on my laptop. Dave Carpenter added bass later. It was one of my favorite times with Allan." (FB 2017)

     Allan develops Chad's aching head melody over several reprises on guitar (probably processed through the Roland VG-8), much as a sax player works over a theme. The solo section is punctuated by repeated chromatic falling cadences in each chorus.

0:00: Drum roll into ballad theme with guitar and VG-8 tone in top line.
0:32: Modulating bridge, cadence.
1:03: Main theme reprise 1.
1:35: Modulated bridge (transposed), cadence.
2:10: Main theme reprise 2.
2:40: Guitar solo over theme harmony, chromatic falling cadences, developed, reprise.
3:44: 2nd guitar solo chorus.
4:50: 3rd guitar solo chorus.
5:52: 4th guitar solo chorus (partial).
6:28: Main theme reprise (VG-8 with more guitar element) with added drum rolls.
8 Eidolon 4:33 AH: SynthAxe
Dave Carpenter: Acoustic Bass
Gary Novak: Drums

AH: SynthAxe
GN: Drums

     Allan cites this cheerful song as having been "in the works" for quite a few years before this album was recorded. This is another structured song which explores various metric variations.

0:00: Accented chord-melody on SynthAxe.
0:19: Modulating cadence in a subdivided rhythm.
0:36: Theme reprise, strong cadence accent, heavy bridge vamp.
1:06: SynthAxe solo (brass/square wave patch).
2:10: 2nd chorus solo (partial).
2:45: Drum solo with accent chords.
3:15: Heavy bridge vamp (variation).
3:31: Opening theme/cadence.
3:54: Modulating cadence.
9 Above and
4:06 AH: SynthAxe

Solo: AH: SynthAxe

     This "reprise" gives Allan an opportunity to improvise over the song's harmony (the "main" version had no solo section at all). This track would also end up as a sonic model for many of the tracks on Allan's next album, "Flat Tire".

0:00: SynthAxe accents and harmony layers, developed from main theme.
0:43: SynthAxe (calliope patch) solo over patient SynthAxe chords.
1:44: SynthAxe solo continues over modulating cadences.
2:08: 2nd solo chorus.
3:20: Final harmony layers (rising).
10 Material
(2003 bonus track)
2:13 AH: Guitar
Dave Carpenter: Bass (electric?)
Gary Novak: Drums

Solo: GN: Drums

     This extract from the rising cadence portion of "Material Real" (Metal Fatigue) often ended many Zone improvisations, and puts the spotlight on Gary Novak.

0:00: Free drums and bass develop into cadence harmony from "Material Real" (from Road Games), highlighting a long drum cadenza.
1:50: Final cadence and coda (with choir patches).

     For a couple years after the release of The Sixteen Men of Tain, drummer Joel Taylor replaced Gary Novak for many live dates (notably on the Gnarly Geezer 2000 Galaxy Theater DVD featuring "Alphrazallan/Zone/Material Unreal", "Letters of Marque", "Gas Lamp Blues", "House of Mirrors" and "Above And Below"). Some mini-tours also featured the return of "old hands" drummer Gary Husband and bassist Jimmy Johnson. However, Allan's next release would be a true "solo album".

Next: Flat Tire, a SynthAxe Fantasia
Previous Chapter: Hard Hat Area, Just For the Curious (1993)

Go to the Table of Contents... 

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

1 comment:

  1. 'Tain' is one of my favourite Holdsworth CDs - it's a true masterpiece imho. Thank you so much for putting this blog together - it's pure gold as far as I am concerned and am loving every minute reading it.