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
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, anger...it is all on this record.
He also loves a good beer...and that's the final reason that one of my favorites!