Sometimes being a distinctive innovator on an instrument can have its disadvantages. Take guitarist Allan Holdsworth, who from the first notes he played on Ian Carr's '72 album, Belladonna
, announced the arrival of a player with a completely distinctive vision, a guitar style that, with its rapid-fire legato runs, was more informed by saxophonists like John Coltrane than other guitarists. Over the course of the past thirty years and more than a dozen solo albums, he has forged a vocabulary like no other, creating a harmonic universe that is instantly recognizable and completely his own. And yet, as much as Holdsworth's compositions are responsible for creating the context in which he can exercise his remarkable guitar work, most people, when they think of Holdsworth, think of him as guitarist first, composer second.
Thankfully, drummer/pianist Gary Husband, who has spent considerable time working with Holdsworth over the years, saw fit to release an outstanding album of solo piano interpretations of Allan Holdsworth's music back in '01. The Things I See , sadly, went out of print far too quickly but now Angel Air records is righting that wrong by re-releasing the album, complete with expanded liner notes and new photos. The recording is a testament to Holdsworth's writing and to Husband's not inconsiderable skills as a pianist as he refashions ten of Holdsworth's compositions, sometimes in ways that make them almost unrecognizable. Almost.
Songs like "The Sixteen Men of Tain" and "Devil Take the Hindmost" are taken fairly literally, with Holdsworth's signature changes intact. Other pieces, including "Shadows Of" and "Mr. Berwell," excise the barest of ideas to create short sketches, while "Kinder," originally recorded by Holdsworth when he was a member of Tony Williams' New Lifetime as "Fred," extracts the core changes and transform the piece from an up-tempo romp to a moody and introspective tone poem. Possibly most surprising is "The Things You See," which starts impressionistically, then shifts into the more recognizable theme before breaking down into a free exchange where Husband overdubs percussion sounds, all made at the piano by hitting sides of the instrument, inside and out. The tune picks up speed with a rollicking bass figure before Husband breaks the tune down, strumming and stroking the piano strings and whispering some of the tune's lyrics.
The best interpreters of standards are able to go directly to the essence of the material and, with a combination of stream-of-consciousness thinking and careful consideration, turn it into something new every time it is played. Husband accomplishes the same thing with Holdsworth's compositions, proving that Holdsworth's writing, while it may never elevate to the level of "standard," is clearly worth visiting in a more open and expansive way. Maybe it's because Holdsworth is so careful at crafting his tunes that people can't see past the detailed arrangements to the broader potential of the material, but Husband clearly does, and hopefully The Things I See will encourage others to do the same.