Allan Holdsworth is a guitarist's guitarist. I doubt there's a single really competent axewielder in the rock and jazz universes unknowing of who the guy is, taking a step back in respect when his name is mentioned. Zappa even went so far as to laud him as "one of the most interesting guys on guitar on the planet". Another critic, a guy I correspond with, compares Holdsworth to Coltrane in terms of overwhelming improv abilities and technique, and much mention has been made of the man's encyclopedic knowledge of the mathematical and exotic technical far reaches in music. Interestingly, despite a truly distinctive style, and in view of having sat in with a number of his own and others' groups, mostly of the fusion and progrock ilk (Tempest, Gong, Soft Machine, UK, Nucleus, Tony Williams Lifetime, etc.), Holdsworth's not recruited anywhere nearly as much as he should be. This CD, a re-release through MoonJune, will not repair that deficit.
The problem is the SynthAxe, a bizarre one-piece MIDI controller device with a fretboard, and Al's dilemma is much the same as John McLaughlin's and Frank Zappa's: most of their audience does not want to hear a guitar masquing as a keyboard. Sorry, we just don't. After McLaughlin split from the landmark Mahavishnu Orchestra, he dove into more standard fusion forms but emphasized a combination of the Synclavier synth with a Roland guitar/controller, basically a precursor of the SynthAxe. The crux of the situation, for the musician at least, is fairly easy to intuit: after playing guitar for years upon years upon years, some musicians, the more adventurous ones, want something a bit different. Synth interfaces provide that quite nicely, but they depart radically from the envelope characteristics of the guitar, creating a keyboard sound and too often a somewhat cheesy one.
Zappa lost himself in the Synclavier, McLaughlin opted for the Roland/Syn gig, and Holdsworth has always proponentized the SynthAxe, but the results each obtained from usage of the devices never much satisfied their audiences. On the other hand, as instruments apropos to exercise in cinematics scoring…well, yeah, they work because the tonicities are so radically departed from the harder edges of the music world, much more suited to the textures of film in a secondary deployment role where soft attack and decay sonics blend more easily with visual aspects rather than as diversions (the use of crunchy rock songs, after all, is meant to put the viewer partially back in his head and in past experience rather than remaining wholly in situ in the film). FLATTire, I have to say, being a big fan of Allan and his work, is a non-starter, and nowhere is this more glaringly shown than in Barry Cleveland's liner notes, which strive mightily to focus on an interview with the fretsbender and completely avoid rendering any critical judgment on the work itself.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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