Shed a tear for the hardcore prog collector — actually, don’t. This week has been absolutely crammed with articulate announcements looking to part fans from their hard-earned cash or pull them deeper into debt. And no, I’m not talking about the upcoming Derek Smalls solo album. Check out what’s coming our way as winter (hopefully) gives way to the spring of 2018:
It took me a while to get my hands on a copy of the late Allan Holdsworth’s new compilation, Eidolon. It was well worth the wait.
What strikes me on the second listen to Eidolon is the seemingly endless flow of melody Holdsworth tapped. Despite his stunning contributions to the first U.K. album, it’s clear in retrospect that the man wasn’t comfortable in a highly structured musical environment. Like his hero John Coltrane, Holdsworth was much happier stating the tune at the start, in bebop head style, then seeing where he could travel with it.
Taking on the basic materials of scales and arpeggios from oblique directions, chaining them together into lightning fast, super-dense sheets of sound, slowing or stopping dead on a sustained note or an unexpected harmonic twist at just the right moment, all somehow connected to the chord changes he floated above — this is what Holdsworth brought to the Tony Williams Lifetime and Soft Machine, what he developed further in Bill Bruford’s band (before and after U.K.), and what he spent the rest of his life exploring. From the evidence here, he never ran out of new territory to pioneer; minds were duly blown, and hearts were duly moved.
Despite the admiration and support of more famous shredders like Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani, Allan Holdsworth never broke through to wide acclaim. But Eidolon leads me to believe that the gift of music — especially of melody — always brought him joy. Kudos to Manifesto Records for their re-release of all of Holdsworth’s albums (compiled as The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever) and this excellent compilation — which you can check out below.
If love is one of the most common themes in song, love songs that stretch beyond simple declarations, admitting a type of defeat in the face of defining such an emotion, are remarkably rare. In the past weeks soundstreamsunday has featured Nick Drake and Lal Waterson, who each spun their songs about love from a point of deep uncertainty. So, on then, this week, to disappointment and devastation. It would be hard to name a song as beautifully crushing as John Coltrane’s and Johnny Hartman’s reading of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” an ode to unrequited love amidst a wash of “jazz and cocktails,” from the only album the duo made. Recorded in 1963, during Coltrane’s legendary run at Impulse! Records, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is a one-off, remarkable in the careers of both men, one a premier saxophone player of his time and the other a largely unknown but extraordinary vocalist and interpreter of jazz standards. In itself the concept was business-as-usual: a large part of twentieth-century jazz music up to this time consisted of runs through the “American Songbook” of Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Porter, Berlin, et al. This pairing, however, stood out. Coltrane was moving fast at this point in his career, and Impulse! gave him the leeway to pursue concept records in a jazz recording industry that was still entrenched in the robber baron tactics that enriched all but the actual musicians (even the greatest players rarely got more than a day or two in the studio to produce an album’s worth of material). For his part, Hartman’s smooth baritone gave the sessions a focus on the lyric, and while Coltrane’s horn gave Hartman’s almost-lounge vocalizing a distinct edge, Hartman balanced the soloist’s tendency to go long (in 1958, Coltrane recorded another classic, but 14-minute version, of “Lush Life”), while his voice filled a gap you otherwise wouldn’t think about when listening to Coltrane’s other work. The result was six songs on an album clocking in at an economical 31 minutes. Every one of the songs is generous, and the musicians (also including Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, and Jimmy Garrison, all from Coltrane’s band and all legends in their own right) support a mood, literally set forth in the last song on the record, “Autumn Serenade,” of turning leaves, fading light, a cold snap. “Lush Life” is the album’s peak, a drinker’s guide to lost love, it’s final statement “Romance is mush, stifling those who strive, I’ll live a lush life, in some small dive, And there I’ll be while I rot with the rest, Of those whose lives are lonely too,” rendered, knowingly but without a hint of irony, as smooth jazz. Way ahead of its time.
*Photo above by Joe Alper: John Coltrane, Johnny Hartman, and Elvin Jones, 1963.
Mark Judge has a nice meditation over at Acculturated.com:
Urban Outfitters now has a section dedicated to vinyl records. The one in my hometown of Washington is in Georgetown, and as I walked to it I had a flashback to the 1980s when I regularly went to any one of the three record stores around Wisconsin and M Streets to shop. There was a mediative, contemplative aspect to the process. You’d get into a kind of peaceful spiritual state as you browsed, awash in the album artwork, the music, and thoughts about love, art, and life. It was like praying.
The piece is called “Star Wars and Vinyl Records: Evidence That Technology Will Not Save Us”!