Allen Holdsworth first came to my attention as the lead player in the
British hard rock band Tempest, which was led by drummer Jon Hiseman.
The band itself was quite good, if bedeviled by inconsistent material,
but Hiseman's drum work was particularly good, a combination of Mitch
Mitchell and Elvin Jones, snappy and brisk. But it was Holdsworth who
got and kept my attention; the guitar improvisations were a revelation,
years ahead of the stylistic curb when Eddie VanHalen would suck up all
the attention among guitar fanatics.
Holdsworth was a bold and
exploratory soloist, blessed with a fluidity and speed that are
distinct, and a technical agility to start a solo in any position, in
any key, from any angle he chooses. There is something cerebral and serene about this musicians alacrity as a improvisiational thinker; his solos are vexing for those wanting typical whiz kid wheel spinning offered by Malmsteen wannabes and those who want their jazz fusion players to be either witlessly conservative in the chicken scratching department, or technically impressive and impatient , as has been Al DiMeola's preferred style for decades, whether playing electric or acoustic guitar. Holdsworth is one of those artists who regards each solo as an original composition--there are beginnings, middles and ends. There , in addition to the eccentrically articulated lines he assembles odd chord voicings, unusual mid-tones , and an ever surprising series of brilliant stretches of fleet inspiration.
Even when he was playing over the
Cream-esque riffs of Tempest, Holdsworth aimed toward a jazz complexity.
That side of him was amply filled during his later stints in the bands
Soft Machine, Gong, Jean Luc-Ponty and The New Tony Williams Life, and
especially his own series of solo efforts and collaborations. He is
among the few guitarists from that period who continue to interests and
intrigue me, as his combination of register-jumping speed, oft-kilter
cadences and phrasing, and grandly convoluted note combinations makes me
think of improvisors no less grand than Coltrane or Wayne Shorter.
Yes, I think Holdsworth is that good.