Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hard Hat Area (1994, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

This is the very first Allan Holdsworth album I bought, back when it was originally released in 1994. I even remember the Greenwich Village CD store where I purchased it (incidentally, the same one where I got Sting's Ten Summoner's Tales a year earlier).

After having recently listened to Holdsworth's previous six releases, looking back in hindsight, Hard Hat Area is definitely his best work up to that point in his career. As to whether it's his best overall, I won't be able to say until I listen to his remaining five albums.

I can best assess this CD by responding to three customer reviews that drew my attention.

One listener states that Holdsworth's compositions are not very strong. If this were actually the case, Holdsworth's highly advanced guitar playing would merely be a pointless exercise in running up and down scales, which it absolutely is not.

The reviewer might be referring to the fact that the music is not primarily riff- or hook-based, like, say, the tunes of fellow guitarist Andy Summers. Holdsworth's songs are looser, but by no means less compelling, freeing him up to take off on extravagant flights of fretboard fancy. This is very much in keeping with the spirit of jazz improvisation that Holdsworth ascribed to, especially being an ardent fan and admirer as he was of saxophone legend John Coltrane.

Another commenter rightly points out that, unlike certain showboating shredders who do lightning-speed leads irrespective of the context in which they're playing, Holdsworth's fiery solos are always anchored to and serve the chord progressions and structure of the overall composition.

Finally, one fan writes that if you like lots of electric guitar, this album is worth it.

I wholeheartedly agree.

--Raj Manoharan

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