Sunday, December 20, 2015

Allan Holdsworth - 1986 "Atavachron"

Atavachron is the fourth studio album by guitarist Allan Holdsworth, released in 1986 through Enigma Records (United States) and JMS–Cream Records (Europe). The album's title and seventh track, as well as the cover art, are references to the "Atavachron" alien time travel device from the Star Trek episode "All Our Yesterdays". This marks Holdsworth's first recorded use of the SynthAxe, an instrument which would be featured prominently on many of his future albums.

John W. Patterson of AllMusic gave Atavachron four stars out of five, describing it as "semi-progressive" with a "symphonic element" and praising it as "clear evidence of the genius Holdsworth was demonstrating release after release". He also highlighted the use of the SynthAxe, as well as praising the "beautiful female vocals" of Rowanne Mark, who makes her first of two appearances on a Holdsworth album.

For a little background, back in the '80s the SynthAxe was invented. It looked like something that fell out of a UFO. It was guitar-like with sets of strings and other onboard controls that allowed the triggering (playing) of synthesizers. What was unique was that guitarists could therefore play a synthesizer without needing a great amount of keyboard expertise. The SynthAxe was the interface that very uniquely interpreted a guitarist's skill into synth sounds. For guitarist Allan Holdsworth, it was yet a whole new way to achieve the sounds unvoiced in his soul in ways he just couldn't do with a standard guitar. Holdsworth has always sought a horn-like voicing with the ability to manipulate a note in a myriad of ways. He is known for being one of the most unique stylists on guitar, but it is the SynthAxe that allows him to go places a guitar can't reach. This release was special in that it marks Holdsworth's first use of the SynthAxe alongside electric guitar. The SynthAxe sounds more like a keyboard than a guitar. It has a wider sound spectrum than keyboards and in this release you will hear a myriad of synthscapes and effects. This release offered a semi-progressive symphonic element and served to ever stretch the boundaries of jazz fusion. Beautiful female vocals in one song framed by surrealistic visual musicks of the SynthAxe and keyboardy leads by Holdsworth may have turned guitar fans off, but this effort is clear evidence of the genius Holdsworth was demonstrating release after release. And as expected, Holdsworth continued to strive for that reed voicing and phrasing on his guitar solos, which merely pushed him to his best. 

Atavachron is the most enlightening, coherent piece of musical thought ever committed to record. Compositionally outstanding, instrumentally unsurpassable, theoretically impossible (!), technically outrageous, expressively devastating, and technologically cutting edge even by 2007 standards, Holdsworth and his assembled gents take us on a visionquest, a catharsis of epic proportions. The moody, yet cheery opening track, Non-Brewed Condiment, is the weeder track: if the Synthaxe puts you off you'll pull the needle right here. Unfortunate if you do, though, when you realize what he's doing harmonically. After having listened to this track for at least 20 years, I find it's a part of my life now. When I'm in my imaginary world where life is perfect, this song is the soundtrack of my expanding mindscape. Then the major-chordy Funnels, originally written for saxophone, show what technique can coax out of a mere electric guitar. Wonderful keyboards, amazing accompaniment. Bass is killer throughout, as is percussion. His old boss Tony Williams steps in on the ridiculously interesting Looking Glass, elevating the experience. I love the funky Dominant Plague, and Chad Wackerman moves me to foul language every time...what a guy. Atavachron really feels like some sort of science fiction journey; you can hear the time when you're in the time machine if you use your imagination, that sort of pedal-tone part. Mr. Berwell is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written post-Home, and the backward echo effect always makes the resolved tone almost heard, but not stated directly until the end. Must be heard to be appreciated. Finally, All Our Yesterdays is the place where even his staunchest fans might wish to part company, until they realize the operatic/song-like bit is just an introduction to the band free-improvisation cycle that characterized many of Holdsworth's recordings of this period. I personally like this part, but it's sort of a mood-breaker as well. If you like moody albums with some cheer, like that REM Automatic for the People, check this out. If you are interested in the future of composition, harmony, and physical technique on instruments stringed or otherwise, you need this record. Hold out for the CD if you can, but I was happy with my cassette for 15 years. Thank you Allan Holdsworth.

I listen to music because I love the elements and the moods of it...although my initial interest usually sparks from technical ability and musical intellectuality, (as was the case with holdsworth) sometimes musicians break things down to more then it needs to be. You can talk about how his voicings are unheard of, his interesting use of octave displacement in chord voicings, or his unbelievable technical ability...but it all comes down to the way the music feels for me. Holdsworth is like no other; he can really take you to places you'll take years to fully comprehend, and be moved in different ways for a long time. You can close your eyes and see the notes bouncing and flowing and enter complete musical bliss, encompass sadness, confusion, happiness, is all on this record.

He also loves a good beer...and that's the final reason that one of my favorites! 



  2. rest in peace dear Allan Holdsworth !!!