Ghost of grumpy genius gets behind his own enigma to haunt the timeless memories.
“How Deep Is The Ocean”: this Irving Berlin classic may pose a question that holds a key to Allan Holdsworth’s career, and it’s no accident the guitarist made the perennial jazz gem one of the selections for his decades-spanning compilation. A companion release to “The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever” – a multi-disc box set comprised of all solo albums the fusioneer has released since 1982 – the two-CD “Eidolon” doesn’t touch on Allan’s starring role in ‘IGGINBOTTOM or U.K. and his cameos with the likes of SOFT MACHINE; neither it lifts a disownment veil off “Velvet Darkness” which was Holdsworth’s first attempt of striking on his own. Instead, the 28 cuts on display focus on nuances of the veteran’s spark and quirk to measure his never-dimming depth and expose, out of chronological context, his creative continuity.
Take, for instance, a mini-symphony “Low Levels, High Stakes” to marvel at its translucent interplay that marries unhurried lyricism to hectic stampede in one fell swoop of emotions, while the even more delicate ripple builds momentum in “The Sixteen Men Of Tain” with Allan’s guitar, increasingly richer in tone and volume, meandering on its way to ultimate freedom, a defining characteristic of his approach to composition. There’s a slightly unexpected, given the artist’s usual frown, playfulness to “Dodgy Boat” which distills his watercolor method and ensemble dynamics, yet if “Funnels” tries to be abstract in its crystalline ebb, the melody of “Devil Take The Hindmost” is dissolving and getting solid again in a very sly manner. It’s a kind of blues for the listener to go along with a smile on their face, even before the light strokes caressing “Water on The Brain – Pt. II” reveal a humorous aspect of Holdsworth’s creations.
Allan’s stellar partners in rhyme, such as Gary Husband and Jeff Berlin, render every performance special, although SynthAxe covering all areas on the tidal “Distance vs. Desire” is just as entrancing as the romantically fierce “Against The Clock” that has Naomi Star singing. Those whose familiarity with Holdsworth’s oeuvre under his own name is superficial will be genuinely surprised to hear him work around vocal lines on the heavy riff-laden “Metal Fatigue” where Paul Williams, his former colleague from TEMPEST, shines, or “Road Games” with an alternative, previously hidden, voice of Jack Bruce. Yet the guitarist’s interpretative talents turn Django’s “Nuages” into a song that doesn’t require a pair of pipes, and when three pieces from "Hard Hat Area" add bounce to the musical steps what can be perceived as angular patterns is rounded in kaleidoscopic kind of experience.
From the early elegy “Temporary Fault” to the gracious “Curves” from the master’s latest record that are placed close to each other here to stress the aforementioned wholeness of Holdsworth’s work, there’s an entire world of Allan on display, this collection being a mere gateway to it. Eidolon might be an otherworldly presence, but his spirit is very real.