Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Allan Holdsworth - 1987 "Sand"

Sand is the fifth studio album by guitarist Allan Holdsworth, released in 1987 through Relativity Records (United States) and JMS–Cream Records (Europe).

Brit guitar hero Allan Holdsworth, ex of the Soft Machine, Gong, U.K., and Bill Bruford and Annette Peacock's solo projects, has been wildly inconsistent when it comes to his solo projects. Completely bonkers for technology, he's employed every gadget he can get his hands on own records, and has gotten results that range from the near sublime to the kind of dross one usually associates with prog excess. But Sand is a different animal, a respite from the relentless kitchen sink approach Holdsworth was mired in through much of the late '70s and early '80s. Utilizing a new contraption, the "Synthaxe," a guitar that has the tonal and sonic possibilities of the synthesizer but can be played straight as well, it seems to satisfy the artist's technology jones, and allows him to compose sensitively for the instrument while not forgetting he's a guitarist first. Guitar fans might be a little put off by the sounds and textures of the synthaxe, which allows for a guitarist to subvert its limited range of tones and colors for rounded off keyboard sounds and warm textural aspects. In other words, the traditional sound of the electric guitar -- and, in particular, Holdsworth's trademark sound -- is nearly absent. In place is a near keyboard sound played in the same way he plays guitar. The six compositions here range from the knotty, mixed tempo, arpeggio-rich title track to the reflective, near pastoral grace of "Distance Vs. Desire" to the electronically astute, fast and furious jazz-rock fusion of "Mac Man." The only time a keyboard actually appears is Alan Pasqua's solo in "Pud Wud," where the guitarist wields his traditional instrument and rips free of the constraints of his own composition for some truly fiery pyrotechnics. The rhythm section of bassist Jimmy Johnson (a killer electric jazz bassist who has also played with Percy Jones and Brand X) and drummer Gary Husband are more than equal to the task of accompaniment, and, in fact, are creative foils for Holdsworth, who allows his sidemen plenty of room to shine -- also unlike many of his earlier projects. Is Sand the mark of a new contentment and refined aesthetic for Holdsworth? Only time will, but it is safe to say that this is one of his most innovative and texturally beautiful to date.

Aside from Holdsworth's obvious guitar virtuosity, any person with any kind of musical training or background MUST appreciate this innovator's unique approach to chord progression and musical (as opposed to avant garde) application of modal scales. This man travels where few dare tread with a true gift of "melody" soloing. Also pleasing to the curious ear is his use of the Synthaxe and other synth rythm instruments.

I am guessing on the length of this CD. In my mind, Sand is one of Allan's best works ever! There is excellent use of the Synthaxe guitar with the encasings of a dynamite band. Allan, at the time of its release, explores new territory just outside of hard prog... but not really a commercial effort such as Avachron. This album stands out from his many wonderful records as being one of the most inventive releases with excellent flows and textures... and of course, AWESOME playing by ALL! Fantastic spin!

People who are not into jazz music often talk of this genre going round in circles, that its artists play self-indulgent and tuneless noodlings which are unpalatable for fans of rock and pop music. Those people usually find Allan Holdsworth's '80s output and his work with prog-rock supergroup U.K. very interesting and innovative, mainly because Holdsworth managed to avoid empty musical gymnastics and overlong guitar solos in favor of kicking riffs and a completely new style which sounded unlike anything that preceded it. Now, 1987's "Sand" sees Holdsworth leaning more towards abstract electronica and giving up the vocal material and jazz-rock arrangements of earlier albums, a not unexpected thing, perhaps, since "Atavachron" certainly hinted at the things to come by introducing the Synth-axe guitar, an instrument whose sound appears more like a cross between violin and keyboard. That said, it's still difficult to pin down "Sand" stylistically -- Holdsworth's best records always seem to exist outside of any accepted musical formulas while providing a minimum of accessibility even for the uninitiated listener -- yet this album ends up sounding very fresh and kind of cool at the same time. The way all the tracks on "Sand" build is rather similar to much electronic music (imagine a jazzy version of Tangerine Dream), but in place of the monochrome, slow-motion style usually associated with this musical avenue, a dynamic and unpredictable impetus predominates. 

 Holdsworth's spacious production is dynamic and relaxing at the same time, so this album works very well as something either concentrated on or left running as background music. The 5 1/2-minute title track sets the scene with its synth-like, airy chords which are suddenly joined by dense drum patterns, ominous bass pulses and dark-sounding undercurrents of electronic washes -- a fascinating demonstration of 'urban cyber-jazz' with a variety of instrumental touches and imaginative melodies. In contrast to most other tracks here, "Distance vs. desire" totally ignores traditional rhythms and relies of layers of peaceful Synth-axe soundscapes; it's the least impressive and most repetitive piece on the album, but nevertheless has something to offer. Thankfully, things become much more abstract and compelling with the 7-minute "Pud Wud", which opens with field recordings taken from a playground, then alternating several instrumental sections and solos for the individual musicians before one instrument after the other is stripped away and the piece disappears. The path changes again with the heavily echoed, industrial drum loops and subharmonic touches of "Clown", mixing that with incredible chords and solo sections by Holdsworth before abruptly returning to massive drum patterns and light atmospherics. "Bradford Executive" also manages to hold attention during its 8 1/2-minute length; it begins with bell-like signals and crackling static, adding mimicked vibraphones and rather carnivalesque elements which provide a launching pad for the longest guitar solo on the album. The playful "Mac Man" closes the album on a more rhythm-heavy note by using some sequences which were generated by a Mac Computer, later accompanied by strong guitar screams/washes from Holdsworth and some melodic Synth-axe chords. Some of the these sounds bring to mind Tangerine Dream's mid-'80s work. In conclusion, if you have a predilection for music which is excitingly different from the run-of-the-mill modern jazz, there isn't a better place to go than "Sand": It features explorations to see what can be done with a guitar/bass/drum arrangement, pushing forward into previously unknown territories and avoiding conventional approaches to melody and rhythm with remarkable dexterity. 

"Sand" features guitarist Holdworth's experiments with the Synthaxe instrument--kind of a cross between a guitar and a synthesizer. "Sand" also includes Jimmy Johnson on bass and Chad Wackerman on drums and percussion, among other artists. Featured are beautiful compositions and fiery guitar solos - well, what else would you expect from the legato master?


Track listing:

All music composed by Allan Holdsworth, except where noted. 

1.     "Sand"       5:25
2.     "Distance vs. Desire"       5:16
3.     "Pud Wud"       6:45
4.     "Clown"       5:14
5.     "The 4.15 Bradford Executive" (Holdsworth, Chad Wackerman)     8:28
6.     "Mac Man"       4:01

Total length: 35:09


Allan Holdsworth – guitar, SynthAxe, engineering, mixing, production
Alan Pasqua – keyboard
Gary Husband – drums (tracks 1, 3)
Chad Wackerman – drums (tracks 4, 5), percussion (track 6)
Jimmy Johnson – bass (except track 6)
Biff Vincent – Roland Octapad bass (track 6)
John England – sound effects
Francois Bardol - Artwork 


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  2. thank you! I have this in vinyl!