Terry Theise’s electric guitar top ten (Guitar magazine 1976)
Guitar magazine, August 1976
Terry Theise’s electric guitar top ten
Alan Holdsworth is the first guitarist I've heard who doesn't think guitar. He seems to approach his instrument as if it were a saxophone, notes spilling out without the tension or enunciation of the usual guitarist's picking hand. He has the most amazing stamina in his fretting hand, enabling him to play at continual top speed for measure after measure without pauses, something beyond the powers of Ollie Halsall, with whom he shares a similar technique. However, while Halsall is beginning to achieve some critical and popular recognition, Holdsworth is mysteriously glossed over. This might be excusable if he had only his speed to commend him but he is a most musicianly guitarist.
He first appeared on Tempest's debut album, playing six short solos of uniform excellence of thought as well as execution. The phrasing was even, clear and occasionally very clever. On Strangeher, for instance, none of the fast passages occur when the listener expects them. The solos were well proportioned, as musical as they could be in the context of what was basically a hard rock band. The final track, though, was more subtle in its harmonies, and Holdsworth played a sublimely lyrical solo, perfectly modelled, every query and cadence where it belonged.
He has recorded with Soft Machine on "Bundles", playing two extraordinary long solos. The first of these is on Hazard Profile, Pt. II and it is a monster. Rhythmically, it utilises a three note pattern which recurs at frequent intervals, and which starts the solo off. The amazing Holdsworth speed is well displayed, and it's so smooth; the notes glide out rather than tear out (as is the case with McLaughlin). And the lines themselves are substantive, irrespective of the velocity at which they're expelled. Modes with chromatically altered notes, dissonances, even the occasional blues lick, all are fused into a surging motion, rising and falling. At two points in the solo, the accompaniment shifts from the droning tonic to a chorus of changes which Holdsworth follows effortlessly. Ingeniously at one point he changes two notes in a repeating line which perfectly address the changing harmony underneath. He is also featured on the title track which leads into Land Of The Bag Snake, in which a repeated sixteen measure chorus is divided into four changes. The dynamics of the guitar solo lie in the tension which immediately precedes each change, i.e. as anticipation of it leads to execution of it, it is again a fine solo.
He is currently working in The New Tony Williams Lifetime, and is in spectacular form on their "Believe it". The solo on Wildlife is his most cautiously deliberate, and it is interesting to study his phrasing in a less busy context. But his amazing lead on Red Alert is one of those performances where you laugh out loud at the furious virtuosity of it all. So few people seem to be aware of his talent will concede that a Holdsworth solo has less to say to the lay listener than a Santana solo. He may just be one of those musician's musicians, a consensus which at least is more indicative of quality than either the critic's or the public's. And if you were neither a connoisseur nor an aspiring connoisseur you wouldn't be reading this series. So check him out.