Sunday, May 07, 2017

Alan Holdsworth - Blues for Tony (MoonJune Records, 2016)

Guitarist Alan Holdsworth passed away recently after a lengthy career playing progressive rock and jazz fusion. He was highly regarded by his peers and left a lengthy discography including this live album that is dedicated to the legendary jazz drummer Tony Williams in whose Lifetime band he played during the 1970's. Holdsworth is accompanied on this album by Alan Pasqua on keyboards, Jimmy Haslip on bass guitar and Chad Wackerman on drums. The music was recorded live during their 2007 tour and shows that they were a confident and thoughtful group, willing to explore the boundaries of the intersection of jazz and rock music. The lengthy title track "Blues For Tony" opens the album with the music blazing a fast trail of lightning fast guitar playing and pastel tones of the electric keyboards. Wackerman is in the hot seat on a dedication to the drum great, but he acquits himself very well, playing complex rhythms with grace and humility. The musicians are able to play at high speed with a sense of tightness and unity that is very impressive. On the Holdsworth original "Fred" they are able to step out for confident solo statements and also play in formation in ways that are exciting but resist any unnecessary grandeur or showing off. "Red Alert" is particularly interesting as the group settled into a funky fusion groove that recalls Miles Davis's eighties band, and allows the bass and drum unit to really dig into the music while the leader shoots sparks of fiery electric guitar framed by washes of electric keyboard, a tactic they also develop on the exciting "Pud Wud" which features snarling guitar solos and powerful playing from the full band as a whole. It's not all explosive music and they lower the intensity on "San Michelle" which receives a beautiful solo acoustic piano introduction from Pasqua that is introspective and quiet before he moves back to electric keyboards as the rest of the band joins in and transforms the music into a neon toned fusion excursion with Holdsworth building his guitar solo gradually as the music picks up pace. He seems to play effortlessly, developing a statement that becomes more strident, illuminating the improvisational possibilities that are inherent in the music. This is a lengthy album that works quite well and would be enjoyed by fans of progressive rock and jazz fusion. It serves as a fine memorial for Holdsworth, and a nod to his time playing with the great Tony Williams. Blues for Tony - amazon.com

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