“Allan Holdsworth changed the way people play the electric guitar, both musically and physically. He is a true genius”.
Joe Satriani, November 2004
In Science and Arts you can find two kinds of people: Those who work and follow the secure road in the applied field and those who break the barriers, expand the well-known paths and open new possibilities for all the others. Allan Holdsworth undoubtedly belongs to the second category, where the personal cost is very big, and only giants can handle it.
Initially, Holdsworth wanted to play the saxophone, but he ended up playing an electric guitar. This fact shaped his approach to the instrument in a way that nobody had imagined or used before. Additionally, in order to emulate the sound of saxophone on the electric guitar, he needed technology that wasn’t present at that time (he was in the mid-seventies!). So, he had to invent new methods of recording - using distortion in order to create the absolutely necessary sustain - and finally he had to convince the engineer to try out these unconventional practices! All of that stuff happened during the recordings of drummer’s Tony Williams legendary album, “Believe It” (1975). If someone listens to this album by today’s standards, he will wonder if almost all the top guitar shredders of the 80's, made a career because of that innovative recording! But in my opinion this is the less significant - technical - side of the story. The most important thing is how Holdsworth feels about music, and also his phenomenal technique and virtuosity.
When Allan Holdsworth started dealing with the guitar he faced difficulties in reading notes. So he invented a new method to communicate by defining a new “language” between him and the instrument. His intention was not to become a professional musician. He just wanted to do his thing without compromises and for his own pleasure.
On the other hand, the main desire of every true artist is to find a way of expressing himself, because this is a necessity. I mean that a true artist has no choice at all. His interpretation of the world he lives in, is so meaningful, that it has to reach all the other people. In Allan’s case the vehicle is the music that he composes and plays. There is an endless stream of “scenes” flowing through him which he tries to sketch spontaneously during his live chord progressions and solos. That's why he constantly improvises and hates playing the same solo again and again. An example of such a situation is the three “Zone” tracks that appeared in the live album “Then” (2003), where all the members of his band were in a magical way at the same wavelength in order to create this strange and very harmonic kind of scenery. You have to listen to this to believe it!
Life is full of compromises, and things can get much worse if someone chooses to make a living from his art. But there is something that we call “identity” which is the most valuable thing of every individual person. If an artist starts losing his identity by forcing himself to do things he doesn’t like for the sake of money - or just in order to survive - then there will be a point where he won’t recognize himself anymore. I think that the biggest feat of Allan Holdsworth is his continuous struggle not to lose his identity and furthermore, to imprint it to all of his work. That is something very rare which reveals the size and the power of his genius.
Back to the Enterprise!
“Atavachron” marks a new beginning in Allan Holdsworth’s music, introducing to all of us the SynthAxe. This new instrument was like a dream come true for Allan, because he always wanted to produce different sounds than those of an electric guitar. This instrument was basically an innovative midi controller with various triggers, but with the look and feel of a guitar. Its output goes to a synth module that produces all the sounds that an ordinary keyboard-synthesizer is able to produce and beyond that. It is worth mentioning that in order to afford it, Allan sold his house in England!
Holdsworth waited for the SynthAxe to arrive before he started dealing with “Atavachron”. I think that all the excitement and joy he felt for this new musical instrument, has found a way into this album. And to celebrate this event he invited a dream-team to jam with him! So to get started, we have here three - from outer space - drummers: Tony Williams, Gary Husband and Chad Wackerman!
Tony Williams is the legendary drummer who at the age of seventeen joined Miles Davis quintet! Later on, it was in William’s New Lifetime band, where Allan found all the freedom he needed to break all the rules and reveal his giant talent. You can enjoy him at “Looking Glass” together with the famous composer-pianist Billy Childs. Gary Husband is still one of the best drummers-pianists out there and he truly shines here. Chad Wackerman is best known for his amazing work in Frank Zappa’s band and on this record he plays all the electric drums and percussion. Billy Childs also plays his beautiful chords at “Funnels”, a masterpiece track, while Holdsworth’s old friend -back from the days of Tony Williams lifetime group- Alan Pasqua gives another dimension to the three compositions he participates with his solos. Just listen to “Mr Berwell”, “Atavachron” and “The Dominant Plague” to find out how well they know each other musically. These songs will make every guitar shredder wonder. Finally, there is Jimmy Johnson on bass, an exceptional musician that Holdsworth has chosen for the majority of his solo albums and live performances.
“Atavachron” closes with the only vocal track of the record, “All Our Yesterdays”. If you look at the album’s cover you can see Allan in the past, when he was a boy and now with his SynthAxe. These two instances of him are somehow connected through the “Atavachron”, an alien time travel device from the Star Trek episode “All Our Yesterdays”. But Holdsworth as if he was a Star Trek hero, finally returns back to the future where he belongs to, holding his “alien” instrument. Even now - after 26 years - the present is just a scene that he watches at a Looking Glass...
I intentionally didn't mention above the only singer of his group, Rowanne Mark... There is a very rare chemistry between her and Holdsworth’s vision. “All Our Yesterdays” is a true magical moment. Not of this earth...
Through the trees, the sunlight's streaming
the leaves of light are falling down on me
though softly and I close my eyes...
I know there is a treasure here in this place
it was left here long ago, or only last night...
Now in the morning... of yesterdays... are muted yearning
the haze has softened every future fear
for all our yesterdays are near…
Golden leaves, a light will gently fall and color all our yesterdays.
(Lyrics by Rowanne Mark)