Allan Holdsworth's "Live at Yoshi's" on DVD and CD

by E. "Doc" Smith, 2012-11-16

My all-time favorite guitarist is none other than the legendary Allan Holdsworth. I first saw him back in the late '70s, in one of the latter incarnations of the Tony Williams Lifetime; next with the British group U.K., featuring Bill Bruford, John Wetton and Eddie Jobson; and later, after seeing subsequent tours with his own incredible trio of bassist Jimmie Johnson and drummer Chad Wackerman, I knew I was witnessing pure guitar genius. There is no one who sounds like the self-taught guitar wizard, though many have tried. His unique way of phrasing and beautifully crafted chords, is an extremely rare gift. Holdsworth is indeed, one of a handful of musicians who has consistently proven himself as an innovator within the worlds of rock and jazz music.

Many of music's best-known instrumental masters cite Holdsworth as that rare and shining voice—a legendary player who continues to push the outer limits of instrumental technique and the electric guitar's range of tonal and textural possibilities. Despite the uncompromising nature of Holdsworth's predominantly genre-defying solo projects, he's no stranger to all-star jazz festival line-ups or large venue rock audiences. Recently, I revisited his 2008 performance at Yoshi’s, in Oakland on DVD. Quoting the Blues for Tony promotional material; "Reuniting for a fall 2006 tour to pay tribute to time spent in the mid-'70s fusion juggernaut, the New Tony Williams Lifetime, Holdsworth and keyboardist Alan Pasqua recruited Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip and in-demand drummer Chad Wackerman for an exciting cross-section of material that first saw the light of day on the aforementioned DVD, and later on an album entitled "Blues for Tony" that takes the best material from that tour and makes it available in CD form, creating an exciting 'you are there' double-disc of music that comprises a full evening of music.

Holdsworth's classic Fred, Pasqua's equally iconic Protocosmos and Lifetime bassist Tony Newman's energetic Red Alert are all there from Believe It, New Lifetime's now iconic first release, but here stretched out with plenty of space for relentless soloing from everyone in the group. The 2006/2007 tours would have a lasting affect on Pasqua, inspiring him to return to higher octane fusion for his solo recordings. On Blues for Tony, he plays with the kind of unfettered abandon and deep sophistication that so defined his work with Williams, a direction he largely deserted for more elegant acoustic outings like 1995's Dedications, from which the darkly balladic San Michele is culled, but is here reinvented as a potential fusion classic, with its Mahavishnu Orchestra-like arpeggios, Pasqua's gritty electric piano and Wackerman's thundering kit.

In addition to material from Believe It, the group revisits two of Holdsworth's own well-known classics: the change-heavy Looking Glass, from 1985's Atavachron, and funkier Pud Wud from 1990's Sand, the latter opening with an atmospheric unaccompanied solo from Holdsworth that asserts his continued dominance as one of jazz's most harmonically distinctive players, and Haslip's most impressive solo of the set - the perfect confluence of pure virtuosity and in-the-moment melodic composition. Holdsworth's velvety smooth tone is more vocal-like than it's ever been, but equally there's an edge that's reemerged in recent years but has remained undocumented - until now.

Wackerman contributes The Fifth, undisputable evidence that fusion can swing. Easily filling the late Tony Williams' shoes by honoring his spirit rather than imitating him, his playing on Blues for Tony finds the nexus point of spare economy and unabashed power. Pushing Protocosmos and the opening section of the collective composition It Must Be Jazz with visceral groove, Wackerman also demonstrates, in the latter song's second half, an equal propensity for greater freedom. He works hand-in-glove throughout with Haslip, who may have grown up as a fan of New Lifetime, but is now an unequivocal equal and perfect fit for the group's combination of technical prowess and masterful interplay.

Blues for Tony brings four masters of their instruments together for an exciting set that may have started with a tribute in mind, but quickly turned into something much more. Fusion at its best, it combines all the prerequisite energy and virtuosity with a deeper language and freer approach, as Holdsworth, Pasqua, Haslip and Wackerman deliver the goods on one of 2009's hottest jazz and fusion releases. Musician Magazine placed Holdsworth near the top of their “100 greatest guitarists of all time.” There's never been a shortage of media attention or acclaim for Holdsworth's accomplishments and originality. An inductee of Guitar Player Magazine's Hall of Fame, Holdsworth is a five-time winner in their readers' poll..."

Both the CD and the DVD are must haves for any Holdsworth fan and jazz rock aficionados.