It shouldn’t take long for Manifesto’s series of live recordings by Allan Holdsworth (1946-2017) to eclipse the dozen or so the notoriously meticulous British guitarist released during his lifetime. Leverkusen ’97 is the fourth since 2018. The CD/DVD package, captured at the 1997 Leverkusen Jazztage Festival in Germany with trio members Dave Carpenter (bass) and Chad Wackerman (drums), spotlights the harmonic brilliance and improvisational interaction that place the Jimi Hendrix of fusion on anyone’s historical Mount Rushmore of electric guitarists.
The first solo on the set’s opener, the title track to Holdsworth’s 2000 disc The Sixteen Men of Tain, is by Carpenter (1959-2008), a vastly underrated musician who also worked with Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, and Herbie Hancock. The bassist contributes a compelling upper-register statement before providing chords and anchoring lines on his six-string for the solos by the guitarist and Wackerman, longtime drummer for both Holdsworth and a fan of his, fellow musical-leftist guitar hero Frank Zappa. The drummer switches to brushes for another of that future album’s tracks, the tranquil “Above and Below,” on which Holdsworth alternately picks and fingerpicks while showcasing his inimitable chording and left-hand legato technique.
“Water on the Brain – Pt. II” is a rhythm-section spotlight that appeared on Holdsworth’s 1983 EP Road Games, his only release on Warner Bros. (after he was recommended to the label by another fan, Eddie Van Halen). Carpenter shines on “Material Real,” also from that EP; Wackerman on “Letters of Marque,” from 1982’s I.O.U., as Holdsworth democratically passes the audio baton. The guitarist then pokes fun at himself for having to don glasses to read music for “0274,” another complex track soon to appear on The Sixteen Men of Tain, before closing the set with “Proto-Cosmos,” a cut he recorded with Tony Williams for the drummer’s groundbreaking 1975 LP Believe It.