Allan Holdsworth Trio: Gatineau, Canada

John Kelman By

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Allan Holdsworth Trio
Maison de la Culture de Gatineau
Gatineau, Canada
September 28, 2009

In a trio, changing only one member can make a tremendous difference. It's been two years since guitar legend Allan Holdsworth last performed in eastern Canada but, with an eight-city tour focused largely in the province of Quebec, it's a very different trio than that of his long overdue return to the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2007. Longtime bassist Jimmy Johnson was still around, but instead of Chad Wackerman—who is more often heard with Holdsworth on North American tours—this time it was Gary Husband behind the kit. Both Husband and Wackerman are powerhouse drummers but, based on the trio's performance at the Maison de la Culture de Gatineau, just across the river from Ottawa, it was an entirely different band. Husband was last seen on these shores touring with another guitar icon, John McLaughlin, in 2007, but whereas his focus then was on keyboards, with some percussive work on his "jungle kit," here it was all-drums, providing a real demonstration of the communication and interaction this trio possesses, even when the music is high octane and high velocity.

Allan Holdsworth Trio / Gary Husband / Jimmy Johnson l:r Allan Holdsworth, Gary Husband, Jimmy Johnson

With the repertory of a lifetime's career to choose from, Holdsworth's selection ran the gamut. He drew as far back as his enduring (and compositionally most direct) "Fred," first heard with Tony Williams' New Lifetime on Believe It (Columbia, 1975) and recently found in more expansive live form on Blues for Tony (MoonJune, 2009), with fellow Lifetime keyboardist Alan Pasqua, Wackerman amd Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip. Despite the lack of a chordal instrument to accompany him during this and every solo, with Johnson treading numerous lines between contrapuntal partner, harmonic foundation and rhythmic co-anchor, there was no problem finding the changes, as Holdsworth soloed with his by-now trademark sustaining tone, delivering cascade-after- cascade of legato lines, along with unpredictable pauses of hanging onto a single note, thus creating a most visceral tension-and-release.

Texturally, Holdsworth has never sounded better. With a heavily chorused but clean tone, he used a volume pedal, reverb and delay to create layered voicings on his intro to a lengthy medley that began with "Madame Vintage" from Softworks' Abracadabra (Tone Center, 2003)—the guitarist's short-lived 2003 reunion with former members of Soft Machine, the legendary British group with whom he received one of his early pushes into the public eye. Husband proved himself as astute at nuance as he was at higher octane playing, supporting Holdsworth's fluid lines as the medley moved into "Above and Below," one of the more subdued and lyrical moments of the 80-minute set, expanding on the original version from The Sixteen Men of Tain (Gnarly Geezer, 2000) and demonstrating the sophisticated harmonic language that's influenced not just generations of guitarists but other instrumentalists as well, like Hatfield and the North's Dave Stewart.

Allan Holdsworth Trio / Jimmy JohnsonGradually picking up steam in an instrumental version of "The Things You See" that more resembled his version on the live All Night Wrong (Sony, 2002) than it did the vocal version on I.O.U, (Enigma, 1985), Holdsworth returned to his overdriven tone for a solo that blended frightening intervallic leaps with lines so long and fast that it was difficult, at times, to keep up. He finished the medley, again, on a more atmospheric note for a subdued version of "Material Real," from his breakthrough 1983 EP, Road Games, reissued on CD by Eddie Jobson's Globe Music in 2002. It was a stunning confirmation and consolidation of all the distinctive qualities that have made Holdsworth a true guitarist's guitarist, with an ear for texture and staggering technique that allowed him to create lengthy harmonic movement, with leading notes sustaining through his voicings to create seamless and pause-less changes. It also demonstrated his legato tone with a little more edge, a welcome reemergence in recent years, and the closest thing to John Coltrane's legendary "sheets of sound" as has been heard on guitar.

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