Wednesday, April 14, 2021

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

According to the old saying, the only certain things in life are death and taxes. So it is somewhat ironically fitting that Allan Holdsworth transcended his mortal existence on, of all days, what is normally Tax Day in the United States of America. Thursday, April 15, 2021, marks four years since the world lost the pioneering jazz/rock fusion guitar legend. He was 70 years old.

In addition to his critically acclaimed solo discography, which is available on The Best of Allan Holdsworth: Against the Clock (2005), Eidolon: The Allan Holdsworth Collection (2017), and The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever! The Allan Holdsworth Album Collection (2017), his unequaled and unparalleled guitar playing is featured on his frequent drummer Chad Wackerman’s solo albums Forty Reasons (1991), The View (1993), and Dreams, Nightmares, and Improvisations (2012), which is the last recording of original material by Holdsworth before his passing.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Forty Reasons (1991), by Chad Wackerman

I first heard of and heard Chad Wackerman in the early 1990s when he played drums on Andy Summers’ albums Charming Snakes (1990) and World Gone Strange (1991). I instantly became hooked on Wackerman’s intense, kinetic energy.

I further encountered Wackerman’s talents on albums by Allan Holdsworth. I was not aware of Wackerman’s solo albums at the time, but I finally decided I should check them out, especially after reading reviews that indicated that they feature the instrumental jazz/rock fusion style favored by Summers and Holdsworth.

 

Wackerman released his debut solo album in 1991, by which time he was a seasoned, full-fledged musician at the ripe old age of 31. The music is representative of the high-tech and glossy sound of instrumental jazz/rock fusion of the era and continues to remain vibrant and innovative decades later, attesting to the timeless quality of the material.

 

Supporting Wackerman on his freshman outing are Holdsworth on electric guitar, Jimmy Johnson on bass, and Jim Cox on keyboards, organ, and piano. Holdsworth, Johnson, and Cox all shine and showcase their virtuosity and musicianship even while performing as a tight unit under the leadership of Wackerman.

 

With all this great musical talent on display, Wackerman’s drumming never gets lost in the mix. In fact, his unique, propulsive, thunderous, and rumbling sound is the driving force of the music, and his formidability comes through loud and clear.

 

If you aren’t already of fan of Chad Wackerman, here are Forty Reasons why you should be.

 

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Planetary Society Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program

Monday, April 12, 2021, marks 40 years since Columbia launched into space and history as the inaugural flight and mission of NASA’s ambitious and unprecedented Space Shuttle program.

To commemorate this momentous occasion, The Planetary Society, the world’s largest private citizen space advocacy organization, invited its 50,000-plus members to share their memories of that historic launch and of the Space Shuttle program, which lasted until 2011.

As a fan of both space and space-based entertainment, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share my thoughts about the Space Shuttle. I am honored that The Planetary Society selected my reminiscence as one of the member stories highlighted on their Web site:
https://www.planetary.org/articles/space-shuttle-40th-anniversary?autologin=true&utm_campaign=downlink&utm_medium=email&utm_source=20210409&s_src=downlink&s_subsrc=20210409#22

I strongly encourage space enthusiasts, especially fans of Star Trek, to join The Planetary Society. It is a worthwhile and far-reaching investment in humanity’s future, both here on Earth and among the stars.

 --Raj Manoharan

Monday, March 15, 2021

Leverkusen ‘97 (2021), by Allan Holdsworth

Eleven years after his Frankfurt date, Allan Holdsworth returns to Germany for a generally reserved set that nevertheless provides yet another stunning display of the late, legendary electric guitar wizard’s unmatched virtuosity.

Holdsworth and his late bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Chad Wackerman – the latter two of whom had also been members of Police guitarist Andy Summers’ bands – form a tight unit, but each player also gets moments to shine in the spotlight.

As always, Holdsworth is a revelation on electric guitar, with dizzying displays of frenetic yet refined fretwork. Also amazing are the various sounds Holdsworth is able to elicit from his guitar, including everything from violins to organs to accordions.

To top it all off, Holdsworth exhibits that famous self-effacing humility and sense of humor, never allowing his personality to overshadow his brilliant musicianship, thus making him the true master he was and will always remain.

 --Raj Manoharan

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Road to the Sun (2021), by Pat Metheny

In his follow-up to 2020’s impeccably crafted, exquisitely cinematic, and lushly orchestral From This Place, jazz superstar Pat Metheny puts aside his guitar – for the most part – and instead composes two multipart suites for classical guitar performed by five masters of the genre.

The first four tracks, “Four Paths of Light Parts 1-4,” are performed by Jason Vieaux, followed by “Road to the Sun Parts 1-6” courtesy of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet.

Metheny plays some guitar on a couple of the tracks before closing out the proceedings with his solo rendition of Arvo Part’s “Fur Alina” on his custom 42-string, multi-neck Pikasso guitar.

Solo and even group classical guitar can make for challenging listening, but Metheny makes it all accessible and enjoyable with exuberant, engaging, and vibrant compositions that run the gamut of moods from solemn and subtle to soaring and serene. Of course, Vieaux and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet make it all happen with their exceptional virtuosity and their ambidextrous prestidigitation. And Metheny caps it all off with evocative and ethereal sounds that extrapolate the esoteric and the experimental and forge new paths and roads ahead.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, December 28, 2020

Happy Birthday, Andy Summers!

On New Year's Eve, Thursday, December 31, 2020, Andy Summers – my favorite guitarist and musician of all time – turns 78 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 Wednesday, December 30, 2020, The Monkees' Michael Nesmith (the one with the green wool hat) turns 78 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 music, I recommend The Older Stuff, The Newer Stuff, Tropical Campfire’s, Live at the Britt Festival, Rays, Movies of the Mind, Infinite Tuesday: Autobiographical Riffs -- The Music, and Live at the Troubadour.

More information about Nesmith is available on his Web site at www.videoranch.com.

--Raj Manoharan