Tuesday, July 09, 2002


The Shout is a London-based eighteen piece choir featuring the talents of an extraordinary array of singers - from contemporary classical, gospel, jazz, Indian classical, operatic, church music and early music backgrounds. It has been called a 'vocal big band', a 'vocal Stomp' and a 'choir of Babel'. Well worth checking out. Among the ensemble's notable concerts was 'Corona', an outdoor oratorio marking the total solar eclipse. It is a piece for singers, brass band and five percussionists. The Shout has a fine CD called Tall Stories. They have appeared on Unknown Public.

The Shout website is at: http://www.z360.com/shout.htm. You can listen to and download music there.


One of the disadvantages of the weblog format (in other ways rather easy on author and reader alike) is that individual pieces can't readily be URLed or discovered without a fair bit of scrolling. That and the routine testing of your eyesight, of course. (Yup, I take the point. But too bad. Try a bigger monitor.) Anyway, I shall attempt to ameliorate, if not rectify, the situation by publishing an Occasional Index. When the second one appears the first will be transferred to the Links section on the left (and so on). The Date Index is a routine feature of this log. It is currently set to 'monthly', but may become weekly, depending on the flow of content. Happy surfing....

8.3 The Shout: A choir of Babel
8.2 Occasional Index, vol 1-8 (28 pieces, 20 June – )
8.1 Utopia revisited: Holdsworth’s secrets [9 July 2002]
7.5 Coming Soon
7.4 Earle Brown, RIP
7.3 Quota: Hunter S Thompson
7.2 Pli Selon free (Boulez)
7.1 Faure into the past [8 July 2002]
6.4 Difficult Listening (radio)
6.3 David Hobson review
6.2 Readers and writing
6.1 London Record Finder [7 July 2002]
5.2 Listening post: George Crumb, Ancient Voices
5.1 Twentieth Century Landmarks [26 June 2002]
4.3 Turnage’s ‘Silver Tassie’
4.2 Air guitar in Brighton
4.1 Lindley’s Handel Organ Concertos [24 June 2002]
3.2 Boulez and Zappa: perfect strangers?
3.1 Dierdre Cartwright, Play (review) [23 June 2002]
2.5 Messiaen reconsidered (conference)
2.4 La Folia
2.3 Dierdre Cartwright Group, Precious things (new: review)
2.2 Birtwistle anecdotage
2.1 Bubalo, Chamber works (review) [22 June 2002]
1.5 Symbiosis, Lee and Schuller; David Hobson, Handel Arias
1.4 Quota: Andrew Clements on ROH, Aki Nawaz on racism in music
1.3 Eclectic Guitars
1.2 Birtwisle, Refrains and choruses (review)
1.1 Journeying to the heart of planet sound: a personal odyssey (SB,) [20 June 2002]


Allan Holdsworth, Secrets, Intima Records 7-73328-2 (1998)

For some reason the word 'unfathomable' always comes to mind as soon as I hear or think of Allan Holdsworth. Without question one of the most extraordinary guitarists of his generation, the richness, complexity and suppleness of his harmonic language - allied to flawless technique and exceptional fleetness of finger - makes him the envy of almost anyone who has tried to press the frets for the purposes of shaping sound. Yet as Martin Taylor (himself no mean jazz guitar master) has pointed out, all this would be of no consequence were it not for the sheer musicality of his playing.

On occasions the Yorkshire maestro has perhaps done himself less than justice with his choice of material and with the over-busyness of his equally prodigious accompanists. On Secrets, however, the balance feels just right. Based on the trio of Holdsworth (guitar and synthaxe), Jimmy Johnson (bass) and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), the album also features sterling percussive contributions from ex-Zappaista Chad Wackerman, together with Steve Hunt and Alan Pasqua (keys) and Bob Wackerman (bass).

Recorded in California, the album contains five Holdsworth compositions (two in association with singer Rowanne Marks), one by Wackerman and two by Hunt. At just over 37 minutes of music the CD may look chronologically thin by today's standards, but the material is exceptionally rich and well honed. There are more ideas (and, let's face it, notes) here than many musicians will achieve in a lifetime, let alone an album.

The most controversial aspect of Secrets is the use of synthaxe on four of the pieces. A cumbersome piece of technology that allows a guitarist to access all kinds of key shift and midi effects from a fret board, this strange instrument with its awkward control panel went out of fashion almost sooner than it entered the market. Few managed to exploit its potential before economics took its toll. Holdsworth, needless to say, is an exception. On the title track, and also on 'Spokes', 'Endomorph' and (unadvertised in the liner notes) Hunt's 'Maid Marion', he builds dense and evocative layers of sound. This works especially well when combined with the voices of Marks and Craig Copeland ('Secrets' and 'Endomorph'). On these tracks, especially, there is a haunting emotion that is sometimes missing from the clinical surface of Holdsworth's playing.

"When I hear criticism for choosing the synthaxe as my instrument", says Holdsworth, "it makes me feel as though those people aren't relating to the music or the notes, they're only relating to something physical. They're hearing with their eyes." Listening to Secrets it is hard not to agree with him.

My personal favourite on this album is probably 'Peril Premonition', an extraordinary spreading-root of a track elaborated with sometimes breathtaking pace from some initial ideas by Wackerman. Gary Husband's fusion classic 'City Lights' also receives a dashing workout, and Steve Hunt adds genuine melodic depth with his 'Joshua'. (Listen out for a couple of soap opera additions to the aural curiosity shop after 'Lights' and before 'Peril', by the way.)

Holdsworth is known more for harmonic density than hummable tunes. But this hardly matters when you are being swept away by the subtle instrumental interplay of '54 Duncan Terrace' - amidst which, in any case, you suddenly realise that there are some extraordinarily strong tunes. Pasqua's beautiful acoustic piano particularly emphasises that. After a bubbling, dancing opening 'Spokes', meanwhile, hints further in the direction of major chord power trio-ing than anything else on the album apart from the explicit 'Joshua'. The material is never less than demanding and unexpected however.

This is music that ultimately defies categorisation. If you have to put it somewhere 'jazz rock' is evidently the place, but that wearisome label hardly prepares you for the surprise of first entering Allan Holdsworth's sound world. With its restless, shifting textures, nervy rhythmic base and filigree lead lines it ebbs and flows in evolving slabs of musical intensity. And Secrets is probably as good an entry point as any. Definitely on my 'desert island' list, this is only fractionally ahead of Hard Hat Area in the justice it does to a fine and unusual musician. Between the two we are spoiled for choice.

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