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Allan Holdsworth: Hard Hat Area

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What to make of the enigmatic Mr. Holdsworth? Is he a jazz guitarist? Is it fusion? Suffice it to say, no other guitarist on the planet plays like him. For pure technical command on the fretboard as a soloist, few can touch him. Since the ’70s, Holdsworth has unleashed on his instrument in a manner that more closely approximates John Coltrane’s sheets-of-sound aesthetic than any other living guitarist. This is evident on two digitally remastered albums from 1993 (Hard Hat Area) and 1996 (None Too Soon), both reissued by fusion and prog-rock enthusiast Leonardo Pavkovic for his MoonJune Records.

For Hard Hat Area, Holdsworth is joined by his formidable touring lineup at the time: keyboardist Steve Hunt, bassist Skuli Sverrisson and drummer Gary Husband. This was a period when the guitarist was weaning himself off of SynthAxe and baritone guitar and playing his more conventional Steinberger and DeLap guitars. His uncanny scalar runs and unpredictable intervallic leaps are readily apparent throughout this hard-hitting affair, particularly on the slamming “Ruhkukah,” fueled by Husband’s muscular backbeats and Sverrisson’s bubbling Jaco-influenced basslines, and the dramatic, suite-like “Low Levels, High Stakes.” The title track provides a bit of a rock edge along with more examples of Holdsworth’s extraordinary legato approach. Coupled with a touch of distortion to give him infinite sustain, it results in an extremely fluid and highly personal lead sound.

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