Holdsworth/Pasqua/Haslip/Wackerman: Blues for Tony (Moonjune)
Guitar aficionados with prog-rock and/or jazz fusion proclivities certainly know and appreciate Allan Holdsworth's four-decades-long body of work: stints in Soft Machine, Tony Williams' Lifetime, supergroup U.K. (whose eponymous debut, the only U.K. album Holdsworth played on, was one of the last great classics of prog's '70s heyday), Gong, and Jean-Luc Ponty, plus fine work as a leader (I.O.U. and The Sixteen Men of Tain are favorites).
Nonetheless, it's fair to say that many lesser talents have achieved far greater fame. I doubt anything's going to change that at this point -- it's not likely he'll suddenly slide into the lead guitar slot of Guns 'n' Roses and get the profile boost that Buckethead did -- but this two-disc live set dedicated to Williams (recorded in 2007, released early this year) surely deserves hosannas. It's an all-star quartet: keyboardist Alan Pasqua was in Lifetime with Holdsworth, and penned this set's title track; bassist Jimmy Haslip channels a gutsier side than his Yellowjackets pedigree might suggest (though that band's smooth-jazz rep is not their whole sound), and Chad Wackerman, perfectly named for a drummer, put in a lot of time in Frank Zappa's bands before working regularly with Holdsworth. But as crucial as all the players are, Holdsworth and Pasqua are the stars, not only for the sheer physical dexterity that marks their virtuosity but also for the subtle imagination and advanced harmonic knowledge that make this much more than a flashfest.
Yes, there are plenty of quicksilver runs and dazzling improvisation over challenging chord progressions that will have muso jaws dropping in awe, but in a way, Holdworth's fame problem is that he's such a fluid player that he makes what's actually superhuman sound easy, and the harmonies are so richly lush that they seem mellower than they actually are.
This is the kind of record where a certain level of knowledge helps one to appreciate just how high a level these guys are operating on. But even if the extended heroics were to be subtracted, the compositions themselves are solid enough that this would be an enjoyable set; complete with the instrumental chops on display, it's destined to rank as one of the best improv albums of the year.