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It's rare enough to find artists who have developed a voice so unique that they can be recognized within the space of a few notes. Rarer still are those who have evolved such a distinctive vernacular that their music can be identified without them personally playing a single note. Scarcer still are those who can work within someone else's framework, altering the complexion to fit their own musical universeindelibly stamping whatever musical situation they find themselves in, not just through the notes they play, but in the way they alter what surrounds them.
Often emulated but never copied, guitarist Allan Holdsworth has evolved that kind of instantly recognizable language, making him frequently regarded as a true musician's musician. It is curious that he has eluded the kind of popularity afforded to many artists he has influenced in a career spanning over thirty years. But the situation appears to be changing, with a new label and new management committed to raising his visibility. A recent sold-out performance at B.B. King's in New York City and active touring of both the US and Europe are already reaping benefits, putting him in the public eye more than he has been in many years.
And so, while he's still clearly a work-in-progress, now is a good time to take stock of his career thus far, and Against the Clock serves as a comprehensive introduction for the novice, as well as an attractively constructed collection for the long-time fan.
The two-disc set is divided into two logical segments. Disc one emphasizes Holdsworth's trademark legato guitar work and mind-boggling close chordal harmonies. 75 minutes of material culled from '85's Metal Fatigue through '00's The Sixteen Men of Tain showcase Holdsworth's playing style, which ranges from blinding speed to idiosyncratic yet wholly memorable lyricism. Fusion fans often refer to such displays of technique as "shredding,'? but the term is a poor fit for Holdsworth. While it implies a virtuosity that he clearly possesses, it tends to gloss over the clear sense of construction that Holdsworth displays in even the most breakneck of solos.
Disc two features Holdsworth's work on the Synthaxe, an awkward-looking guitar synthesizer that, given his recognition of John Coltrane as a seminal influence, has afforded him the ability to execute phrases with a horn-like diction, something that he could previously only emulate on guitar. It has also allowed him to expand his sonic palette, with some pieces on the second disc approaching the orchestral in nature.
Careful remastering lends the programme a wonderful sonic consistency, and the inclusion of two newly-recorded tracks and one piece previously only available in Japan make Against the Clock essential for newcomer and experienced listener alike. And while some may quibble about tracks included or excluded, the truth of the matter is that the collection, selected by Holdsworth himself, provides the broadest possible overview of an artist who, at the midpoint of his career, undoubtedly has many more musical revelations up his sleeve.
Track Listing: Volume One (Guitar): Tokyo Dream (Japan Version); Sphere of Innocence; Rukukha; Low Levels High Stakes; How Deep is the Ocean; Nuages; Devil Take the Hindmost; Home; Peril Premonition; The Sixteen Men of Tain; Mr. Berwell; Looking Glass; Pud Wud Volume Two (Synthaxe): Spokes; Distance vs. Desire; MacMan; Against the Clock; Eeny Meeny; Secrets; Bo Peep; Postlude; All Our Yesterdays; Eidolon; Sundays Bonus Tracks: Let's Throw Shrimp; Shenandoah
Personnel: Allan Holdsworth (electric and acoustic guitar, Synthaxe), with collective personnel including: Gordon Beck (digital piano), Dave Carpenter (acoustic bass), Billy Childs (keyboards), Kirk Covington (drums), Steve Hunt (keyboards), Gary Husband (drums), Jimmy Johnson (bass guitar), Gary Novak (drums), Alan Pasqua (keyboards), Skuli Sverrisson (bass), Bob Wackerman (bass), Chad Wackerman (drums), Tony Williams (drums) Gary Willis (bass), Vinnie Collaiuta (drums), John England (MAC computer), Rowanne Mark (vocals), Naomi Star (vocals), Biff Vincent (octopad bass)