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September 2005

Allan Holdsworth
Against the Clock: The Best of Allan Holdsworth
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On “Let’s Throw Shrimp,” one of the two unreleased songs tacked onto this over-view of 11 Allan Holdsworth albums, bassist Jimmy John-son and drummer Chad Wackerman help the guitarist blow through a groove that lacks a blatant downbeat and still sounds funky. As this spontaneous piece winds down, Holdsworth cuts loose with the kind of high-register scorch that makes guitar fanatics swoon. These lines are incredibly fast, but they also possess clarity and a logical sense that tech heads often lack. It’s also one of the few tracks where Holdsworth steps out from behind the sheet of synths to reveal why he earned such reverence from guitar players from Pat Metheny to Eddie Van Halen.

Against the Clock draws on albums Holdsworth recorded between 1985 and 2001. Rather than taking the chronological route, it devotes one disc to Holdsworth’s guitar and one to his SynthAxe. While providing a trajectory of his catalog, it also charts the evolution of electronics in progressive jazz, an important aspect to consider when approaching this music. For example “MacMan,” a 1987 piece where a Mac computer and octopad bass accompany the SynthAxe, sounds dated and stiff, not to mention bizarre: The melody sounds like you’ve accidentally leaned on your player’s fast-forward button. Moist keyboard sounds aside, the SynthAxe disc features some of Holdsworth’s more interesting compositions like “Eeny Meeny,” whose melody is almost boppish, and “Spokes,” where funk, fast solos and taste meet equally. Among the revolving door of sidemen, drummer Vinnie Collaiuta adds some organic legs to the tracks.

The guitar disc has some fine moments, especially when Holdsworth reunites with Lifetime bandmates Tony Williams and keyboardist Alan Pasqua (both on 1986’s Atavachron). Each disc also includes bassist Skuli Sverrisson and drummer Gary Husband among the roster. But again, those synths give the music a sheen that distracts from the firepower of Holdsworth’s six strings.

Originally published in September 2005
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