Critics tend to either be idiots (and there are FAR too many of those), boy scouts, or prickly bastards—I'm not sure there's a fourth category or that there should be—but even the lattermost tend to form a few back channel associations to discuss music and the industry. I e-converse with a crit on the East coast, a guy who's working up a hyper-intriguing film script on the life of Felix Pappalardi, and it's his conviction that legendary guitarist Allan Holdsworth is an improv genius on the level of Coltrane. I've been following AH since his unorthodox premier on the CTI label (!!!) and, the more I think upon it, the more I'm inclined to agree. Holdsworth is just one of those guys who transcended the instrument itself beyond what almost anyone else can do with it. Some come damned close - Satriani, Vai, etc.—but none have that ultra-unique phrasing and attention to internal dynamics that Alan possesses in abundance. This MoonJune re-issue of a breathtaking 1993 release pretty much proves my point. And then some.
No matter where Holdsworth shows up—in Tempest, U.K., Gong, IOU, Soft Machine, solo—you know you're in for a chopsfest of the most abstract and delicious kind, yet of an obtuseness that dwells rather comfortably in melodic contexts as well as dimension-rattling abstruseness. Hard Hat possesses tons of both, from the electronic sharpness and angularity of the title cut, the fourth selection here, to the shredding opening track, Prelude. Back in the day, prognuts like me used to anticipate anything the guy would issue in the same way we waited breathlessly for Gary Boyle, Jukka Tolonen, or Larry Coryell to toss something, anything, into the landscape, we didn't care what, it was all good, never disappointing. Allan has also quietly put out album after album of top-notch work, but much of it has been relegated to the specialist category of music that only the most sophisticated palettes can handle. Curious, really, but, hey, we're living on Monkey Planet.
That's why reissues like this one are important: they anticipate the culture finally catching up to what it missed the first time around. Hard Hat Area is non-stop fusion, a mode that has its own history but which also never stops experimenting. The gig started in Miles & Zawinul, whom you'll hear echoes of here, but exploded in all directions, from the outrageous to the decorous: Sonny Sharrock, Group 87, Michael Gregory Jackson, Strata Institute, and so on amid many more familiar ensembles. The entire band here knows the territory well, Skuli Sverrisson particularly tasty on bass, and everyone matrixes the guitarist solidly, tracking him step for step, allowing Holdsworth to dive into his usual: doing the impossible and improvising like a madman.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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