Saturday, December 29, 2018

Happy Birthday, Andy Summers!

On New Year's Eve, Monday, December 31, 2018, Andy Summers – my favorite guitarist and musician of all time – turns 76 years old.

I first became acquainted with the music of Summers in 1983 at the age of 10 in a Catholic elementary school classroom when I heard a hypnotic and futuristic-sounding pop/rock song emanating from the radio of Candy, my substitute teacher. When I asked what the song was and who recorded it, I was promptly informed that it was “Spirits in the Material World” by The Police. I was instantly hooked, so much so that that Christmas, my parents got me a vinyl copy of Synchronicity, The Police’s fifth and final studio album and one of the biggest hits of the year. The Police have since remained my favorite rock band of all time.

Summers was the guitarist for the mega-popular group, who were active in the late 1970s and early 1980s and reunited for a 30th anniversary tour in 2007 and 2008. Being a good decade older than his bandmates Sting and Stewart Copeland, Summers began his professional recording career in the early 1960s, playing for Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band (which later became the psychedelic but short-lived Dantalian’s Chariot), Eric Burdon’s New Animals, and Soft Machine. After formally studying guitar at Northridge University in California from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Summers returned to England and plied his trade as a session guitarist for Joan Armatrading, Neil Sedaka, Kevin Coyne, and Deep Purple’s Jon Lord before achieving monumental success and international stardom with The Police.

After the dissolution of The Police in the early 1980s, Summers scored some Hollywood films (Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Weekend at Bernie’s) and recorded one rock vocal album before establishing himself as an acclaimed and accomplished contemporary instrumental guitarist across a variety of styles, including jazz, fusion, new age, and world music.

I was privileged to interview Summers by telephone in Fall 2000 for the January 2001 issue of DirecTV: The Guide. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Summers posted a notice of the interview in the news section of his Web site. Later, I met Summers in person during his book tour in Fall 2006, just a few months before The Police reunited for a 30th anniversary reunion tour, which I was fortunate to attend twice in August of 2007 and 2008.

For a good overview of Summers’ solo work, I highly recommend the following albums: Mysterious Barricades, A Windham Hill Retrospective, Synaesthesia, and The X Tracks. My personal favorite Summers albums are XYZ, Mysterious Barricades, The Golden Wire, Charming Snakes, World Gone Strange, Synaesthesia, Earth + Sky, Fundamental (with Fernanda Takai), Circus Hero (with his rock band Circa Zero), and Triboluminescence.

--Raj Manoharan

Happy Birthday, Michael Nesmith!

On Sunday, December 30, 2018, Michael Nesmith of The Monkees (the one with the green wool hat) turns 76 years old.

Of all of The Monkees, Nesmith has had the most prolific and successful solo career. He pioneered the country-rock music format in the early to mid-1970s, founded the music and video label Pacific Arts, and basically created the concept of MTV. In addition to producing films and music videos, Nesmith also won the very first Grammy Award for Best Home Video for Elephant Parts, which later led to NBC’s short-lived Television Parts. In an interesting side note, Nesmith’s mother invented liquid paper and sold it to Gillette for a substantial fortune, which Nesmith inherited.

For a good overview of Nesmith’s solo music career, I recommend The Older Stuff, The Newer Stuff, Tropical Campfire’s, Live at the Britt Festival, Rays, Movies of the Mind, and Live at the Troubadour.

More information about Nesmith is available on his Web site at

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, December 28, 2018

Against the Clock: The Best of Allan Holdsworth (2005), by Allan Holdsworth

So why get this 2-CD artist-curated compilation from 12 years earlier when the 2-CD retrospective, Eidolon: The Allan Holdsworth Collection, just came out in 2017 and features late guitar great Allan Holdsworth’s most recent selection of favorite tracks?

Well, for starters, even though Against the Clock has two fewer tunes than the 28 compositions on Eidolon, Against the Clock has two exclusive bonus recordings unique only to this release, “Let’s Throw Shrimp” and “Shenandoah” (one of Holdsworth's most beautiful, majestic, and epic pieces, right up there with "Endomorph").

In addition, each of the album’s two CDs is devoted to a specific, distinct instrument that Holdsworth plays. The first disc is “Volume One: Guitar” and focuses primarily on the standard six-string. The second, “Volume Two: Synthaxe,” features the guitar-synthesizer hybrid, plus the aforementioned bonus tracks, which are performed on regular guitar.

What this neat delineation means is that Against the Clock has nearly four times as many synthaxe numbers as Eidolon, which concentrates for the most part on Holdsworth’s electric guitar highlights. As a result, there is 50 percent overlap and contrast between the albums. Most of the songs on “Volume One: Guitar” are available on Eidolon; most of the songs on “Volume Two: Synthaxe” are not.

The main appeal of Against the Clock is having all of Holdsworth’s favorite synthaxe performances in one place, which is a real draw for those like myself who enjoy Holdsworth’s eclectic musical musings.

Holdsworth had often gotten grief for his infatuation with the synthaxe. However, those who open their minds and ears to his explorations on this instrument will find a testament not only to his compositional brilliance, but to his masterful guitar virtuosity as well.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

RajMan Holiday Haiku

Christmas in the air!

Holiday cheer everywhere!

And love! We are there!

--Raj Manoharan

Jesus and Me: The Collection (2011), by Glen Campbell

I don’t particularly care for Christian pop music, so I find myself surprised by myself for highly enjoying this inspiring and uplifting collection of mainstream pop legend Glen Campbell’s best contemporary faith-based songs from the 1980s and 1990s.

It’s the best of the genre I’ve ever heard.

There are probably two reasons for this: One, Glen Campbell is an acclaimed and accomplished secular singer-songwriter who happens to be a Christian, rather than being specifically a “Christian artist.” And two – it’s Glen Campbell, after all.

The very melodic and tuneful songs have a glossy sheen to them, and Campbell’s alternately humble and soaring voice exudes earnest sincerity and spiritual longing.

The three standout tracks on the album for me are the poignant take on the classic religious anthem “Amazing Grace” (the absolute best version I’ve heard, especially with Campbell’s bagpipe refrains), the power pop ballad “The Greatest Gift of All,” and the haunting elegy “I Will Arise” (with background vocal ambiance provided by The Boys Choir of Harlem). These are three of the most affecting songs I have ever heard in any genre.

Although this is not a Christmas-themed record (Campbell has at least one proper Christmas album and probably several more), it sounds right at home with the season, especially the three aforementioned tunes. (Other highlights include "Call It Even," "Something to Die For," and "Come Harvest Time.")

No matter what your faith is, or even if you don’t subscribe to one, I can’t imagine anyone not being moved by the sentiments on this very personal, soul-searching, and ultimately life-affirming musical journey.

--Raj Manoharan

Tis the Season, Charlie Brown

It’s that time of year again – the period from late October through late December where we go through Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, complete with pumpkin picking and trick-or-treating, Butterball and football, and decked halls and snowfalls. In terms of entertainment, we have costumes, parades, and the Rockettes, along with numerous television specials and holiday music releases. However, nothing captures the pop culture spirit of the season like the Charlie Brown TV specials. Good old Chuck, Linus and Lucy, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang epitomize the holidays like no one else.

If you don’t have the time (or the stomach) to watch all the holiday programming that will be overwhelming the airwaves over the next couple of months, your best bets are the Charlie Brown specials, including It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving; and A Charlie Brown Christmas. These are all available on DVD, but there’s something magical about watching them on network television during the season.

In terms of holiday music, you can’t do better than the soundtracks to the Charlie Brown specials. As enjoyable as holiday releases by major and independent artists can be, they don’t compare to the beauty and innocence of the scores for the Peanuts specials. There are several albums that cover the music of the Peanuts shows, but I really recommend the actual soundtracks to the programs composed and performed by Vince Gauraldi. Like the shows, his timeless Charlie Brown recordings exude the peace, contentment, and happiness of the holidays.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, December 14, 2018

Live in Japan 1984 (2018), by Allan Holdsworth, I.O.U.

The spirit, or “eidolon,” of late guitar great Allan Holdsworth lives on in this legendary live date from the mid-1980s in the land of the rising sun.

The first posthumously released album by the artist, it documents Holdsworth’s last performance with his I.O.U. band, featuring Jimmy Johnson on bass, Chad Wackerman on drums, and Paul Williams on vocals.

Holdsworth’s musical genius and ambidextrous virtuosity are on full display here, as the guitarist unleashes his trademark elegant lead phrasing, rapid-fire bursts of fluidity, and ethereal chord textures and colors.

Live in Japan 1984 is yet further proof that Holdsworth was a certified, undisputed master of new age jazz/rock fusion guitar.

Of Holdsworth’s three official live recordings to date, my favorite is 2002’s Then!, documenting a Tokyo show in 1990. That is Holdsworth at his best as the compositions are kinetic and he and his band are on fire.

However, that does not take away from the brilliance of Live in Japan 1984, which is the first of a projected series of live archival recordings from various points in Holdsworth’s solo career. I hope that the albums highlight featured performances from each of the following three decades, especially since Holdsworth continued to play live up until 2017.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Stephen Hillenburg (1961-2018)

Walt Disney. Friz Freleng. Chuck Jones. Walter Lantz. Hanna-Barbera. Matt Groening.

And Stephen Hillenburg.

Yes, Stephen Hillenburg. The creator of the ubiquitous and ever-popular Nickelodeon cartoon, SpongeBob SquarePants, which, not long after its debut in 1999, quickly became as iconic as its equally storied predecessors – Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and The Simpsons.

It’s a rare bird – or in this case, sponge – of a cartoon that can capture the imagination and whimsy of both children and adults with its double serving of silly shenanigans and grownup humor – and also be funnier than most live-action film and television comedies.

And SpongeBob SquarePants has done exactly that, living well beyond its initial five- or six-year life expectancy and expanding to include two full-length animated/live-action theatrical motion pictures as well as a whole spectrum of merchandise.

It’s no wonder, then, that it’s so widely referenced in pop culture, including on The Simpsons.

If there’s one thing I (and Squidward) learned from SpongeBob SquarePants – and you can learn many things from SpongeBob SquarePants – it’s not to mess with sea bears.

It may be a sad time for now in Bikini Bottom, but thanks to Stephen Hillenburg, the hilarity will ensue and the laughter will continue for years to come.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, November 23, 2018

Di Blasio BrOs (2008), by Di Blasio BrOs

Although the photo on the front of the CD jacket looks endearingly over-the-top, like they say, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. These guys aren’t just mere poseurs – they ROCK!

The Di Blasio BrOs are real-life brothers from Italy who are famous as members of the European hard rock band Kymera, so they definitely have the compositional and performance chops to pull off this excellent foray into pulse-pounding instrumental music.

The Di Blasio BrOs make bold statements with majestic synthesizers, powerful drums, and, last but certainly not least, lead and rhythm guitars that draw you in with flaming licks, searing solos, and thundering chords from which you can’t – and don’t want to – escape.

Overall, the music has the style of power ballads, running the gamut from intensive to introspective and everything in between.

Think of this as Boston without vocals. This is what I imagine Tom Scholz would sound like if he made instrumental albums.

This is one of the best guitar albums of all time and a must-have for fans of loud, melodic, guitar rock. More albums please, Di Blasio BrOs!

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

RajMan Holiday Haiku

Happy Thanksgiving!

Peace and joy it be bringing!

For all's well living!

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, November 16, 2018

Giant Steps (2002), by Derryl Gabel

Derryl Gabel’s sophomore CD is one giant step for the fusion ax man, and one giant step for fusion kind.

Actually, it’s really not much of a leap for Gabel, because the guitarist already showcases his virtuosic level of playing on his debut album, Visions and Dreams.

However, he does widen the palette with which he applies his six-string savvy, expanding his musical boundaries with tasteful excursions into dance, funk, traditional/standard jazz, and swing. As varied as some of the genres here are, Gabel weaves them all into one cohesive whole with his fancy fretwork.

And when I say fancy, I certainly don’t mean style over substance, because Gabel plays with plenty of both style and substance.

Giant Steps firmly takes its place alongside Gabel’s first CD as one of the best guitar recordings of all time.

Derryl Gabel is definitely one of an increasingly rare breed – a true guitar hero for today and future generations.

--Raj Manoharan

Stan Lee (1922-2018)

Jerry Siegel. Joe Shuster. Bob Kane. Gene Roddenberry. George Lucas.

And Stan “The Man” Lee.

Among countless notables, these have been the primary pop cultural influences and inspirations of my life, and not just mine, but also those of several generations of the young and the young at heart.

Stan “The Man” was the last of the Big 3 comic book kings (Superman creators Siegel and Shuster and Batman creator Kane before him) to grace us with their greatness.

Now “all we are left with” are our memories and mementos of his and their four-color imaginations, which will continue to ignite and fuel our collective conscious through books, film, television, and memorabilia.

I am eternally grateful that one of my most cherished memories is the privilege of having interviewed Stan “The Man” himself by telephone for the occasion of the pay-per-view release of the first theatrical live-action Spider-Man film. Lee was one of the many luminaries (among them the film’s director Sam Raimi, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, and Marvel’s personal appearance Spider-Man turned Hollywood stuntman Scott Leva) whom I talked to by telephone for the cover story of the December 2002 issue of DirecTV: The Guide.

I will never forget Lee’s unique, larger-than-life personality (and voice), especially as he recounted how many tries it took (Insect-Man and on down the list) before he came up with the name Spider-Man.

Stan “The Man” indeed.

In the words of the beloved icon, “Make mine Marvel!” and


--Raj Manoharan

Douglas Rain (1928-2018)

Good night, HAL.

Bon voyage.

And thanks for the memory banks.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Visions and Dreams (2002), by Derryl Gabel

In my quest to find guitar heroes around my age that I can follow for the next 20 or 30 years since my lifelong ones are getting older (or dying off – RIP Allan Holdsworth), I have found the Holy Grail.

Mike Moreno is an excellent jazz guitarist, and Dhani Harrison is carrying on the legacy of his legendary rocker father in new and exciting ways, but perhaps best of all, the spirit of Holdsworth lives on in the six-string savvy of fusion ax man Derryl Gabel.

Gabel actually recorded this album in the late 1990s/early 2000s, when Holdsworth was still very much alive. Only in his late 20s/early 30s at the time, Gabel was already playing on the level of Holdsworth – not even Holdsworth played like that in his 20s.

This album is hands-down absolutely and positively one of the best guitar albums of all time. It’s vibrant, uplifting, inspiring, and awesome, buoyed by Gabel’s agile dexterity and clean monster tone. Not only does Gabel’s mastery of the fretboard echo that of his esteemed predecessor, but he also incorporates elements of the compositional and playing styles of Holdsworth and Eric Johnson, among others (including Andy Summers and the late great Hiram Bullock). In fact, if I hadn’t known otherwise, I would have thought that the last song on the album, “Blue Fingers,” was an Eric Johnson recording.

Gabel literally picked up where Holdsworth left off, releasing his debut record a year after Holdsworth’s last studio album. Visions and Dreams is as good as Holdsworth’s best work. That’s no easy feat, but Gabel’s fluidity and phrasing make it seem effortless. This might as well have been an Allan Holdsworth album, if Holdsworth had returned to original studio recording and with electric guitar no less.

The fact that Gabel can at will sound exactly like Holdsworth and Johnson, as well as other established guitarists, makes him no less original. He has a style and sound all his own, even as he pays tribute to the guitar greats that came before him.

Gabel has a couple of other albums as well as additional material that are available directly from him. He also seems to be keeping very busy as an online guitar instructor. Hopefully he will find some time to record and release new albums, because for all those who have felt a void since the passing of Allan Holdsworth, Derryl Gabel fills that chasm like no other – and then some.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, October 26, 2018

Bewitched (1984), by Andy Summers and Robert Fripp

Yep, this album is more Andy Summers than Robert Fripp.

And no, that’s not a bad thing, especially if you enjoy Summers’ solo albums, particularly Mysterious Barricades (compare “Emperor’s Last Straw” to “Forgotten Steps”), Charming Snakes (compare “Passion of the Shadow” to “Tribe”), Earth + Sky (compare “Above the World” to “Begin the Day”), Triboluminescence (compare “Help from Jupiter” to “Bewitched”), and the title track of XYZ (compare to “Train”). By the way, Summers’ rhythmic chorused arpeggios on “Train” brilliantly convey the sonic motion of a locomotive.

I bought my first vinyl copy of Bewitched in the late 1980s, from a record store next to the GAP in a retro futuristic outlet mall across the parking lot from Levitz on Route 17 in Paramus, New Jersey. It was my first album of Summers and Fripp. Summers had just finished his first stint with The Police and had only three solo albums and a couple of soundtracks to his name. So, his parts on Bewitched and I Advance Masked seemed obvious.

However, as his solo work has progressed over the years and become more varied and revelatory, so have my understanding and appreciation of his work on the Fripp albums. And as Summers continues to record into his seventies and reveal more of his idiosyncrasies, I continue to unearth still even more treasures from those decades-old but timeless works.

--Raj Manoharan

I Advance Masked (1982), by Andy Summers and Robert Fripp

Are you familiar with many of The Police’s songs beyond their Stingy adult contemporary hits?

Are you a fan of Andy Summers and his solo career?

Then not only will you enjoy this seminal progressive experimental new age jazz/rock fusion collaboration, but you will truly appreciate it as well, especially if you like Summers’ albums The Golden Wire (compare “Blues for Snake” with “Still Point”), World Gone Strange, Synaesthesia (compare “Low Flying Doves” with “Girl on a Swing”), and Metal Dog.

The unique give-and-take interplay between these two extraordinary and unconventional ax men makes this record and its 1984 follow-up, Bewitched, unlike any other guitar albums out there and thus essential must-haves for fans of either, both, or neither artist.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Neil Simon (1927 – 2018)

Thanks to him, we know the answer to one of the most important questions in life:

Can two grown men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?

--Raj Manoharan

Robin Leach (1941 – 2018)

Champagne wishes and caviar dreams!

--Raj Manoharan

Allan Holdsworth (August 6, 1946 – April 15, 2017)

This month marks what would have been Allan Holdsworth's 72nd birthday.

The late, great guitar master was born on August 6, 1946, in England and passed away at the age of 70 on April 15, 2017, in Southern California, where he had lived for over three decades.

I first heard of Holdsworth in the early 1990s when I read some reviews that described the instrumental albums of my favorite musician, Police guitarist Andy Summers, as partly Holdsworthian.

I began to read more about the legendary Holdsworth, finally buying my first album of his, Hard Hat Area, upon its release in 1994. I still remember eagerly and excitedly purchasing the CD at a record store in Greenwich Village.

I continued to buy Holdsworth's albums throughout the 1990s, culminating with the 2000 release of The Sixteen Men of Tain. Holdsworth put out one more solo album, Flat Tire: Music for a Non-Existent Movie, in 2001, which I never got around to getting back then for one reason or another, and then Holdsworth went silent, save for the occasional guest appearance on other musicians' albums, as well as live performances and collaborative recordings.

I also lost touch with Holdsworth's happenings for nearly two decades, until April 15, 2017, when I read on Yahoo! News to my shock, disbelief, and dismay that Holdsworth had passed at 70 years of age. Remiss at both his loss and my obliviousness to his life for the previous 16 years, I immediately purchased his 12-CD box set, The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever!, and his 2-CD compilation, Eidolon, both released a week prior to his passing, and spent much of the next year immersed in the guitar and synthaxe brilliance of Allan Holdsworth.

In honor and remembrance of this amazing and unparalleled musical icon, I highly recommend the following albums as my top four picks, reviews of which can be found both on this site and on Amazon: With a Heart in My Song (with pianist Gordon Beck, 1988), Hard Hat Area (1994), The Sixteen Men of Tain (2000), and Then! (2003).

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Happy Birthday, Eric Johnson!

On Friday, August 17, 2018, one of my favorite guitarists, Eric Johnson, turned 64 years old.

I was first introduced to the music of Johnson in 1990 by an employee at a local cable television station I was interning at during my senior year of high school. That was the year Johnson, then 35/36 years old, released his breakthrough second album, Ah Via Musicom, which achieved the distinction of having three instrumental songs reach the American Top Ten.

Every one of Johnson's albums showcases his incredible electric guitar wizardry and his soft-spoken heartfelt vocals. His latest album is Collage, a review of which follows below.

--Raj Manoharan

Collage (2017), by Eric Johnson

The veteran Texan guitarist's first solo electric guitar studio album since 2010's fiery Up Close marks a fine return to form and the classic Eric Johnson sound.

This is a more laid back and relaxed affair, with a nice mix of instrumentals and vocals and covers and originals, blending jazz and rock with hints of new age.

But don't let the mellow atmosphere fool you – Johnson's playing is as nimble and seamless as ever, with clean, crisp tones and lightning-fast lead lines.

And Johnson's eternally youthful vocals are still so smooth and silky even at 63 years of age.

Standout tracks include Stevie Wonder's "Up Tight (Everything's Alright)," The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out," and The Ventures' "Pipeline," and Johnson's "Morning Sun," "The Fade," and "To Whom It May Concern."

Collage is proof positive that after forty-plus years in the music business, Eric Johnson's still got it.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, August 17, 2018

Live at the Troubadour (2018), by Michael Nesmith and The First National Band Redux

Live at the Troubadour is Michael Nesmith's third live album in the last 26 years, and it is every bit as lively and engaging as its predecessors.

All three concert recordings are equally excellent without being redundant, especially considering the fact that each one focuses on a different aspect of Nesmith's career: Live at the Britt Festival (1992) concentrates primarily on the albums And the Hits Just Keep on Comin' (1972) and Tropical Campfires (1992); Movies of the Mind (2013) is a wide-ranging retrospective; and Live at the Troubadour revisits Nesmith's First National Band trilogy from the early 1970s.

Since some of the original First National Band members are no longer with us, The First National Band Redux consists of a whole new group of backup musicians, including Nesmith's sons Jonathan and Christian on guitars and backing vocals.

For some qualitative comparative analysis, here's a breakdown of which of the three albums features the best live versions of common, overlapping songs:

Britt – “Papa Gene's Blues”
Movies – “Propinquity,” “Tomorrow and Me,” “Different Drum”
Troubadour – “Joanne,” “Some of Shelly's Blues,” “Silver Moon”

Live at the Troubadour showcases Nesmith in top musical form. It's both a joy and a thrill to hear the legendary 75-year-old icon still plucking away at his 12-string acoustic guitar with sprightly aplomb and giving it his all as a singer.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

44/876 (2018), by Sting and Shaggy

This is more like it! This is the Sting we all know and love!

The 2016 back-to-basics guitar rocker 57th & 9th was a decent comeback for the veteran pop star, but where that album is merely good, the new release is great! 57th & 9th is fine, but 44/876 is fantastic!

In an unlikely but very agreeable collaboration that turns out to be his most enjoyable to date, the Englishman in New York (among other places) teams up with Jamaican superstar singer Shaggy for a collection of reggae-infused pop gems that are infectious, invigorating, and irresistible.

44/876 has been likened to Sting's experiments with reggae in The Police (“One World (Not Three)” comes to my mind), but overall the album is more similar to Sting's solo reggae excursions, most notably classic songs like “Love Is the Seventh Wave” and “History Will Teach Us Nothing.”

The album has also been described as a party record. Yes, the tone is definitely upbeat. But make no mistake – in many cases, the buoyant nature of the music belies the brooding ruminations of the lyrics. Sting is the King of Pain, after all – especially of wrapping pain up in sweet little pop packages.

Standout songs such as “Just One Lifetime,” “Dreaming of the U.S.A.,” and “If You Can't Find Love” prove that, at 66 years of age, Sting is back in top form and at his classic best.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Allan Holdsworth Playlists

Sunday, April 15, 2018, marks one year since the world lost pioneering fusion guitar legend Allan Holdsworth. He was 70 years old. In honor of the late great musician, I share my personal playlists culled from his immense works and arranged by theme.

Endomorph (Songs Featuring Various Singers)

The Things You See * White Line * Was There? * Material Real * Metal Fatigue * Panic Station * In the Mystery * Secrets * Endomorph * Against the Clock

Mr. Berwell in the Mystery (Best Overall Including Instrumentals and Vocal Songs)

Three Sheets to the Wind * Metal Fatigue * Panic Station * In the Mystery * The Dominant Plague * Atavachron * Looking Glass * Mr. Berwell * Endomorph * Prelude

No Zones (Then! Live Album without “Zones” Improvisations)

Proto-Cosmos * White Line * Atavachron * Pud Wud * House of Mirrors * Non-Brewed Condiment * Funnels

The Un-Merry Go Round (New Age)

The Un-Merry Go Round * Distance vs. Desire * The Un-Merry Go Round (Part 4) * The Un-Merry Go Round (Part 5) * Prelude * Above and Below * Above and Below (Reprise) * Material Unreal * Curves * Don’t You Know

Tokyo Dream I (Hard Fusion)

Three Sheets to the Wind * Tokyo Dream * Non-Brewed Condiment * The Dominant Plague * Atavachron * Looking Glass * Mr. Berwell * City Nights * Peril Premonition * Hard Hat Area

Tokyo Dream II (Soft Fusion)

Home * Funnels * Joshua * Sphere of Innocence * Zarabeth * Questions * Tokyo Dream * The Un-Merry Go Round (Part 4) * The Un-Merry Go Round (Part 5) * Prelude

--Raj Manoharan

Heavy Machinery (1997), by Anders Johansson, Jens Johansson, and Allan Holdsworth

While this is not an official Allan Holdsworth “solo” album and Holdsworth receives third billing on the cover, this is simply and absolutely one of Holdsworth’s best records, period.

The primary producers and composers are drummer Anders Johansson and keyboardist Jens Johansson, but Holdsworth features throughout in all his pure, unadulterated electric guitar glory.

The Johanssons lay down some hip grooves and rhythms, setting Holdsworth up to do his thing as only he can, with the Johanssons keeping pace with him every step of the way.

Holdsworth is especially inspired, working with two of the best musicians he has ever worked with. The result is an exciting thrill ride for the ears.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, March 31, 2018

RajMan Recommended Playlist: Summers Singers, by Andy Summers

This playlist features my favorite collaborations between Andy Summers and various singers, including Najma Akhtar, Sting, Deborah Harry, Q-Tip, Fernanda Takai, and Rob Giles. The tracks are taken from the following albums: The Golden Wire (1989), Green Chimneys (1999), Peggy’s Blue Skylight (2000), Fundamental (2012), and Circus Hero by Circa Zero (2014).

Piya Tose * Round Midnight * Weird Nightmare * Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/Where Can a Man Find Peace? * No Mesmo Lugar (Here I Am Again) * You Light My Dark * Smile and Blue Sky Me * Underground * Gamma Ray * Whenever You Hear the Rain

--Raj Manoharan

RajMan Recommended Playlist: Metal Luminescence, by Andy Summers

This playlist combines my top five picks from each of Andy Summers’ last two albums, Metal Dog (2015) and Triboluminescence (2017), for an intriguing exploration of dark, eclectic fusion.

Metal Dog * Animal Chatter * Ishango Bone * Vortex Street * Harmonograph * If Anything * Elephant Bird * Gigantopithecus * Ricochet * Help from Jupiter

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Blues for Tony (2010), by Allan Holdsworth, Alan Pasqua, Jimmy Haslip, and Chad Wackerman

The last album released during Allan Holdsworth’s lifetime with his name on the cover documents the fusion guitar master and his frequent collaborator, keyboardist Alan Pasqua, in a live 2007 tribute to their 1970s bandleader, the late, legendary jazz drummer Tony Williams.

The dueling tones of Holdsworth’s six strings and Pasqua’s 88 keys are sometimes nearly indistinguishable as they take alternately fiery and facile turns, with Yellow Jackets bass player Jimmy Haslip and drummer Chad Wackerman keeping the rhythms and beats grooving along while also showing off their musical might.

The last three tracks of the two-CD set – “San Michele,” “Protocosmos,” and “Red Alert” – propel the album towards a powerful, impactful conclusion.

And so, with the final official recording of his life, Holdsworth ends on a high note.

--Raj Manoharan

The Things You See (1980, 2007), by Allan Holdsworth and Gordon Beck

Unlike their luminescent and timeless sequel eight years later, Allan Holdsworth and Gordon Beck’s first collaborative album finds them more down to earth and at odds with each other.

Holdsworth, in his pre-synthaxe period, sticks to acoustic and electric guitars, violin, and, for the first time since his ‘Igginbottom days, vocals (on one track), and Beck handles the keys on acoustic and electric pianos.

Whereas on the follow-up the duo is very much in harmonious sync, this debut outing has them trading off passages in counterpoint to each other, almost like a cat-and-mouse game of musical oneupmanship, an artistic conversation of which we are mere observers rather than partakers.

From that intellectual vantage point, this album provides fascinating insight into each musician’s mastery of his instrument, but the real harvest of their creative partnership would come into full bloom nearly a decade later.

--Raj Manoharan

Propensity (2009), by Danny Thompson, Allan Holdsworth, and John Stevens

They say good things come to those who wait. In this case, with the album produced in 1978, mixed in 1997, and made commercially available in 2009, the total wait was 31 years from recording to release.

Was the wait worth it? Even if you’re an Allan Holdsworth fan, it’s a 50/50 proposition.

Technically, the performances and recording quality are top-notch and superb. The musicians (Danny Thompson on bass, Allan Holdsworth on acoustic 12-string guitar and electric guitar, and John Stevens on drums) are at the top of their game, and the album sounds like it was recorded today.

Musically, it’s a challenging listen. This is really out-there, pure improvisational jazz, almost like stream of consciousness on the part of the players. There are no concise compositions or structures or hooks or riffs, but rather quite a bit of dissonance and atonality.

As sonic art, it soars. The work required to engage with it is its own reward.

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Black Panther Original Score (2018), by Ludwig Goransson

Black Panther is one of the absolute best Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and certainly the most unique, and its corresponding soundtrack is definitely the best of the bunch.

Ludwig Goransson has created music that is every bit as remarkable as the movie it underscores, especially in its visceral, life-affirming revelry of African sounds and rhythms.

Based on his personal, firsthand research into and study of African musical traditions, Goransson structured his compositions around indigenous vocals, tribal chants, and exotic ethnic instruments, especially drums and percussion (Police drummer Stewart Copeland employed a similar process for his groundbreaking 1985 Afro-pop/rock album The Rhythmatist).

The result is an incredible, epic work of Afrocentric world music fused with hip techno and electronica and rousing, soaring symphony orchestra.

"Wakanda," "Warrior Falls," and the last four tracks of the album are excellent, perfectly capturing the film’s interwoven themes of family, honor, and heroism.

The Black Panther score is not only the cream of the crop of Marvel and superhero movie soundtracks, but it also ranks among the most memorable film music of all time.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

With a Heart in My Song (1988), by Allan Holdsworth and Gordon Beck

Allan Holdsworth’s synthaxe and guitar + Gordon Beck’s keyboards and synthesizers = Pure, joyous, electronic bliss, full of rhythm, new age, and all that jazz.

Brilliant, beautiful, and bewitching, it is one of the best albums of all time.


--Raj Manoharan

‘Igginbottom’s Wrench (1969, 2000), by Allan Holdsworth and Friends

Originally released under the group name ‘Igginbottom, this rarity was reissued under the name Allan Holdsworth and Friends after Holdsworth rose to prominence as a fusion guitarist in the ensuing decades.

While it may not be of interest to most, the album is noteworthy for two main reasons – it is the recording debut of Holdsworth, and it is the only release to feature Holdsworth singing, certainly at least for the entire length of the LP.

Beyond that, the music sounds like what you would expect from an English jazz/pop/rock quartet from the period – groovy rhythms, lofty lyrics, hypnotic vocals, and transcendental musicianship.

However, while Holdsworth’s songwriting is nowhere near as complex as the songs he wrote and recorded in the 1980s and sung by others, the intensity of his playing is there from the beginning, even in his early 20s.

Holdsworth’s demonically speedy jazz chops definitely set him and his superbly talented Friends (guitarist and vocalist Steven Robinson, bassist Mick Skelly, and drummer Dave Freeman) apart from others of their ilk and time.

A highlight of the album is “Golden Lakes,” which is basically a template for the title track of Holdsworth’s unofficial solo debut seven years later, Velvet Darkness – but with vocals!

This is definitely a must-have for die-hard Allan Holdsworth purists, as well as those with a fondness for avant-garde music of the era.

--Raj Manoharan