I have to admit that although I was aware of the name Allan Holdsworth I had not paid any attention to his music. It was only the article Remembering Allan Holdsworth in July 2017 edition of DownBeat that prompted me to do a little research. Here is part of an entry in Wikipedia:
“Allan Holdsworth (6 August 1946 – 15 April 2017) was a British guitarist and composer. He released twelve studio albums as a solo artist and played a variety of musical styles in a career spanning more than four decades, but is best known for his work in jazz fusion. Holdsworth was known for his advanced knowledge of music, through which he incorporated a vast array of complex chord progressions and intricate solos; the latter comprising myriad scale forms often derived from those such as the diminished, augmented, whole tone, chromatic and altered scales, among others, resulting in an unpredictable and “outside” sound. His unique legato soloing technique stemmed from his original desire to play the saxophone. Having been unable to afford one, he strove to use the guitar to create similarly smooth lines of notes. He also become associated with playing an early form of guitar synthesizer called the SynthAxe, a company he endorsed in the 1980s.
Holdsworth was cited as an influence by a host of rock, metal and jazz guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satrriani, Greg Howe, Shawn Lane, Ritchie Kotzen, John Petrucci, Alex Lifeson, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Yngwie Malmsteen , Michael Romeo, Ty Tabor and Tom Morello . Frank Zappa once lauded him as “one of the most interesting guys on guitar on the planet”, while Robben Ford has said: “I think Allan Holdsworth is the John Coltrane of the guitar. I don’t think anyone can do as much with the guitar as Allan Holdsworth can.”
Well, he obviously has a bucket full of credentials so I went to YouTube to get a taste of what he is about. There are lots and lots of clips. This is not relaxing music. It offers very significant challenges for a potential audience and I for one am not sure I am up to the challenge. The one I have selected is interesting because it was recorded April 3, 2017. He died on April 15, 2017.
“Consider Sweden, which offers the most reliable historic records. In 1800, life expectancy at birth was 33 years for women and 31 years for men; today it is 83.5 years and 79.5 years, respectively. In both cases, women live about 5% longer than men.”
Just goes to show – the more things change, the more they stay the same. On another level – at my current age (76 years) I have live 2.3 times longer than a Swedish male in the 1800s and I am still not finished yet.
Every body has memories that float to the surface from time to time. A lot of people have fond memories of their high school and college years, and a million other times that are filled with many pleasant memories. Nostagia has become a great marketing tool and the market place is rife with commercial attempts make money from the emotion. Just stop for a minute and think of the popularity of classic rock, the numerous tribute bands and fading rock stars on their last, and final, farewell tour. I am not immune to the emotion but my favorite nostalgic musical memory has nothing to do with the pop music of my youth. Rather it concerns a particular memory from the time of my immigration to Canada. In 1971 the transport method of choice to get to Canada from Australia was by boat (or is it ship?). In those days air fares were too expensive. I traveled on the P&O ship The Oriana from Auckland (New Zealand) to Vancouver with stops in Suva (Fiji) and Hawaii (USA). The trip was laid back and leisurely and although it was a nice respite from the rigors of road travel in New Zealand to this day I cannot understand why anybody would willingly imprison themselves on a luxury cruise ship. We arrived in Suva Harbor in Fiji on Thursday May 20, 1971.The sights, sounds and smells of Suva were like something out of the past, or perhaps straight out of the pages of a Somerset Maugham short story. After a little wander around town I headed back to the ship for the most memorable part of the day at departure time in the late afternoon. I had met a couple of Canadian Engineers who had been on the islands for a few months and to a man they all expressed the sentiment that they had to get out of there or as they said “they would never leave . This place is paradise”. Similarly, I have a friend, Gordon Rae, here in Cranbrook, who had spent time in Fiji, and any time Fiji came up in a conversation he would get misty eyed and mutter – “every young man should have a Fiji in his life”. Obviously the engineers on the deck of the Oriana that afternoon felt the same way. When the Fijian Police Band on the wharf played “Isa Lei” – the traditional farewell song – there were tears running down their faces. I thought they were going to jump off the ship. If you want to hear a South Pacific farewell song at its emotional peak then there is no better way than from the deck of a ship. To this day any time I hear Isa Lei I get really choked up. Here is the song as played by the Fijian Police Band
You can check any one of many other versions on YouTube but for me the one above is the most evocative. I can still see those Canadian engineers standing on the deck of the Oriana in the late afternoon sun with the tears running down their faces as the tune wafted up from the wharf.
The high emotional content of the song is understandable. In the old days when some one left the islands it was unlikely that they would ever return. Without a doubt it is one of the most beautiful tunes on the planet – bar none.
Here is another less traditional version that was recorded by Ry Cooder. It is good but for me it doesn’t quite match the emotional content of the Fijian Police Band
The Jason Buie Band at Studio 64, Saturday May 13, 2017, 8pm
This band is a “Power Trio” of lead guitar, bass and drums to accompany mostly blues/rock vocals. In Jason Buie’s words the trio plays “West Coast Rockin’ Blues”. The concept of the “power trio” evolved in the 1960s out of the Chicago Blues tradition of the likes of Muddy waters. The invention of electricity and the expanding virtuosity of musicians made the concept of a high volume, powerful trio viable. Prior to the electrification of the guitar the instrument was too quiet to make its presence really felt in most ensembles and situations. Electricity changed all that. With the vast increase in volume and the availability of numerous effect pedals the guitar trio came into its own in the 1960s. Now, here was a configuration that could hold its own in the largest of venues and circumstances. The concept went onto fame and fortune in the music of The Jimmy Hendrix Experience, Eric Clapton in Cream, and later on in the music of Motorhead, ZZ Top, The Police, Nirvana, Rush, the John Mayer Trio and many, many others. In the economically stressful times of today a three man unit is much more employable than larger bands and I think that is a contributing factor in the longevity of the format.
Jason Buie (guitar and vocals) resides in the capital, believe it or not, of West Coast Blues, Victoria B.C. Bass player Murf Martin is a local freelance musician who performs in many situations. I am not sure where the drummer Jimmy James calls home. Collectively they are a tight group performing mostly blues/rock material that dips deep into the huge repertoire of the genre. They kicked off the evening with an instrumental and followed through with a number of well known tunes and songs that included Randy Newman’s classic Louisiana and its unforgettable refrain “six feet of water in the streets of Angeline”. Considering the current flood situation all across North America this would seem to be a very appropriate song for the day. The evening featured a few originals (Drifting Hard) and lots of well known tunes such as Big Joe Turner’s 1955 hit Flip, Flop and Fly (“a tune to get you out of your seat and onto your feet”); Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic; Prince’s Purple Rain; Eric Clapton’s cover of Big Bill Broonzy’s I’ve got the Key to the Highway; The Band’s The Weight; Muddy Water’s I’ve Got My Mojo Working and a marvelous version of Carlos Santana’s melodic masterpiece Black Magic Woman. To sum it up my buddy Bill St Amand described the music as “Two O’clock in the morning music” and given our age it is not music we get to hear very often so the evening of loud free wheeling music was real treat for us old folks.
This was the last performance in the Stage 64 Spring Concert Series and the first one on the newly installed stage. As always the concert was a screaming success with another sold out crowd. The organizing committee would like to thank the Columbia Basin Trust, Telus and various organizations that made funds available for the installation of the stage. Thanks also to the Burrito Grill and B&B at 228 for the musicians food and accommodations and also the organizing committee and volunteers who have made this season another great success.
Basically I prefer instrumental music. Singer / Song writer music is fine but it is instrumental music that, for me, is a distillation of the real magic and mystery of music. I particularly like jazz and at every jazz performance I come away wondering “how did they do that” and the answer always escapes me. Its magic.There are also classical performances that amaze me with their perfection. Glen Gould’s recordings of The Goldberg Variations I have listened to more times than I could possibly count and it still sounds as fresh as the first time I heard it. Instrumental Celtic music falls into that realm of magic and mystery where one forgets the beginning and the end and gets lost somewhere in the middle. A perfect example of what I am talking about is this performance by The Blackie O’Connell Band featuring Cyril O’Donoghue on Irish Bouzouki; Meabh O’Hare on Fiddle; Blackie O’Connell on Uillean Pipes and, off camera, Eamon Cotter on Flute. Why do Celtic performances, and this one in particular, appeal to me?
Well here are some of my observations:
I like the tunes. Even some Irish citizens disparage the music as “diddly i-di-di music” and prefer more modern genres. I can see why some audiences, including my daughter in law, think that all the tunes sound the same. To begin with, to appreciate the tunes one needs to be able to hear the differences between the various dance forms – reels, jigs, slip jigs, mazurkas, hornpipes, marches, Strathspeys, highlands, slides, polkas, etc, and that requires a lot of exposure to the music over a long period of time. Being born into the tradition helps.
I like the repetition of the tunes and the repetition within the tunes. Celtic instrumental music is dance music and dancers demand and expect predictable repetition. The basic format of a dance tune is an eight bar segment, Part A, that sometimes has a repeated four bar portion within the eight bars. The A part is usually repeated in total before moving onto the second B part that may, or may not be, similar to the A part. The B part is usually repeated and this can be followed by a C part with repeats or even a D part with repeats, depending on how many parts there are in the particular tune. So, the basic format of the tune is AA BB played two, three, or more times depending on the whim of the lead musician. If there are extra parts to the tune the format can be seen as AA BB CC DD etc also played as many times as the circumstance permits. The tunes in this example are in the AA BB format.
I like the way musicians can string together a batch of similar or dissimilar tunes to create an extended performance into what can be heard as a seamless composition. For me the more tunes strung together and the longer the performance the better I like it. The idea is to create a musical grove. In this instances the tunes are The Mullingar Races , The Mountain Top and Lady Gordon. In this YouTube example the band kicks off with the first tune and plays the usual AA BB form of the tune until the Piper, Blackie O’Connell, gives a subtle nod to switch to the second tune. The Bouzouki player deftly slides the capo up to the fifth fret without missing a beat. I suspect that, for whatever reason, he wanted to keep playing a D chordal pattern as the band changed up to the Key of G and the way to do that was to slide the capo up the neck to the appropriate fret. On making the switch to the second tune the fiddle player gives Blackie a sly wink and a smile as she hits the tune in lock step with the other performers. And so the performance goes on until Blackie looks across to the flute player and the fiddle player and gives the nod for the change up to third tune. The Bouzouki player slides the capo back down the neck as every body makes a seamless switch to the new tune. The piper finally gives the nod for the end repeat and the run down to the finale.
I like the lack of false theatrics. There are no flashing lights, fireworks, fog generators and gymnastic leaps around the stage. The musicians just play the music. Anything else is just unnecessary distractions.
I like the fact that instrumental Celtic music is not guitar based. The guitar can have a place in the music but it is essentially in a secondary role. The predominant instruments tend to be strong melodic instruments like the fiddle, flute, accordion, harmonica, mandolin and Uillean pipes. This gives the music a sonority that is very different from the run of the mill pop music. In this performance I particularly like the “wailing” sound that comes with the blend of pipes, flute and fiddle. The guitar as a rhythm instrument is not present on this performance and has been replaced by the Irish Bouzouki. In other performances the Irish frame drum, the Bodhran, can add punch to the rhythm.
In a jazz or classical music sense instrumental Celtic music may not sound as harmonically advanced. Although, that may be because the music is based on modal melodies and concepts and perhaps we just don’t hear what is happening in a conventional harmonic way. Any harmonic elements present are usually very simple. Bouzouki players, guitarists and piano players may enhance harmonic sensibilities by playing complementary bass lines and counter melodies and unison playing behind the featured melodic instruments.
Melody is a prime component in this style of music and the melodies tend to have a flowing line with few gaps and significant spaces in the music. The exception to this generalization would be slow airs. Most Celtic melodies, but not all, do not readily lend themselves to improvised solo treatments and that may be the reason that when Bluegrass musicians play these melodies that just don’t sound Celtic. Bluegrass musicians just love to solo and that concept is largely foreign to Celtic music. Wide variations in the melody are not usual. There is a tendency to just play the melody as it is “written”. Having said that it must be understood that “written” versions of a tune may not reflect the actual way a tune exists in a particular performance. “Written” versions are just the scaffold of the tune on which to hang the performance and musicians will interpret the melody as they see fit.
Rhythmically, depending on ones point of view, Celtic music is more varied. Most Jazz, Bluegrass and pop music is 4/4 in nature. Every now and then a waltz or a 12/8 blues shuffle will sneak in but the 1-2-3-4 beat is the rhythmic underpinning of most of our familiar music. Variety is provided by the use of “swing” and syncopation. Celtic music, like most ethnic based folkloric cultures seems to rely on eighth rhythms and triplets rather than standard four rhythms. 6/8, 7/8, 9/8 and various “dotted” rhythm syncopation co-exist along with the familiar 2/4 and 4/4 rhythms.
Having said all of the above. Nothing is cast in stone and like all rules they are there to be broken. In one form or another Celtic music has existed for hundreds of years and the reason it continues to exist is that each generation of performers literally re-invents the music. As the traditional fiddle player Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh of the Celtic band Altan has often mentioned in interviews “When I play a traditional tune I don’t play it the way my father played it. That would not be possible. I have been exposed to too many other musical influences to be able to do that”. That is why the music keeps evolving.
Saturday April 8, 2017, 7:30pm – SWEET ALIBI at 5768 Haha Creek Road, Wardner.This is the last concert of this season’s Home Routes House Concerts.
It seems that Winnipeg is possibly the geographical center of Canada and at the same time it is the center of Canada’s musical universe. Maybe it is the cold winters that drives everybody indoors to play and appreciate music. Over the years the quality of musicians that have come out of this city has proven to be exceptional. For this last concert, the trio Sweet Alibi – Amber Rose – vocals, guitar, ukulele and a little percussion on the side; Michelle Anderson – vocals, banjo and guitar; Jess Rae Ayre – vocals, guitar, harmonica and a little percussion on the side has once again demonstrated that musicians from Winnipeg are top draw. Most of the music presented was original material written by the trio with an occasional cover of lesser known songs such as Bob Dylan’s Gotta Serve Somebody (it was a new song to me but it maybe better known by everybody else)
Gotta Serve Somebody
You may be an ambassador to England or France You may like to gamble, you might like to dance You may be the heavyweight champion of the world You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed You’re gonna have to serve somebody Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief
Also there was Khari Wendell McClelland’sSong of the Agitator. It is a song that remembers the Underground Railway of African Americans fleeing from the USA in the mid 1800s. It is a song that, with the current Moslem immigrants illegally crossing the border into Manitoba had some sense of deju vu . “Every thing changes but some things seem to just stay the same”. As per their website – ” The appeal of Sweet Alibi’s sound hinges on their ability to mix elements of folk, roots, and country, then present it in the context of a tightly-structured pop song.” I think that is true. Their vocal harmonies are strong and their spartan accompaniments take the music way outside the narrow confines of current pop/rock music. The mix of the banjo and the heavy vibrato of the electric guitar provides a unique background to their songs and takes them even further away from run of the mill pop music. Three songs that had great appeal where Dark Train, Walking in the Dark and Bodacious (a famous rodeo bull forced to retire because he was way to dangerous for cowboys to try and ride). Here are some images from the evening:
Jess Rae Ayre Michelle Anderson
So ends the marvelous musical series for this past winter. The musicians and the venues were were exceptional and the weather, at times, was a little bit of a challenge but that comes with living in the back blocks of Canada. I wish to thank the hosts, Van, Shelagh, Patricia and Gordon for opening their homes for these wonderfully intimate musical concerts and for providing the wine and treats. I am looking forward to next winter and, hopefully, another Home Routes Concert Series.
Certain musicians, or groups of musicians, often have “a lock” on a genre or a particular musical approach. For instance Blue grass and old timey musicians own banjo music. After all they virtually invented the instrument and the appropriate styles so it only stands to reason that they should “own” banjo music. Similarly, for a multitude of reasons that I could bore you to death with, “Classical Guitarists” have a lock on Guitar Duets, Trio and Quartets. “The Brazilian guitar duo João Luiz and Douglas Lora are one of the most exciting and recent chamber groups to emerge on the music scene. These two talented young guitarists combine energy and technique with a dazzling musicality………. the duo shows maturity, talent and perfect technique in their interpretations and executions of intricate Brazilian rhythms……. Their sonority is exceptional, robust and varied and their whole repertoire is played with verve and enthusiasm, with stylistic balance and sensitivity …….. Excepts from Wikipedia – Amen to all of that.
Classical music, and classical guitar may have a reputation for being stuffy, “uncool” and uninteresting. I think this piece, Bata Coxa, by the Brazilian composer Marco Pereira (born 1950) played by this very energetic duo should dispel some of those notions. CDs by the duo are expensive and hard to come by…… thank God for YouTube for giving me a chance to experience their music.
Spellbinding!!! Yep, that’s the word for the musicians and the performance. This is The Sultans of String third tour of the East Kootenays and their second performance at Centre 64. On their last trip to the area in February 2014 they performed with the Symphony of the Kootenays. Prior to that in January 2009 they performed here in Kimberley at Centre 64. They are currently on their 10th anniversary tour. Of course things do change and the musical configuration known as The Sultans of String has changed and evolved over the years. Having said that Drew Birston on electric bass and Chris McKool on 5 string violin are the constants in the ensemble. Back in 2009 the guitarist Eddie Paton was a member and somewhere along the way the ensemble enlisted the aid of Kevin Laliberte and his flamenco/rhumba guitar in developing the signature sound of The Sultans. The current core of ensemble includes Drew Birston, Chris McKhool and Kevin Laliberte. Depending on the tour and circumstances the core ensemble is augmented with the addition of Cuban percussion, Oud (the Arabian ancestor of all guitar like instruments), Ney (Middle Eastern end blown flute) and for this tour Anwar Khurshid on Sitar and Jeff Faragher on Cello. The signature sound of the ensemble is a genre-hopping mixture of Celtic reels, flamenco, Gypsy-jazz, Arabic, Cuban, and South Asian rhythms all played with their trademark brand of virtuosity.
They kicked off the evening’s music with their original tune Enter the Gate with its wonderful melodic mix of violin and Sitar backed with a flamenco flavored guitar rhythm and bass line. Neil Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife is a well known Scottish lament written by the master Scottish fiddler Neil Gow way back at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was nicely paired with the Rakes of Marlow. There is some dispute about this second tune. Normally it is considered a standard Celtic tune but Anwar insists that he was taught the tune way back in his youth as a traditional Indian melody. Most of the Sultan’s music is instrumental but there was room for for the likes of Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind and Neil Young’s Heart of Gold. Throughout the evening they also played Luna the Whale, Hills of Green, Josie, Stomping at the Rex (a swing tune) and a sitar tune about snake charmers, an original about Nova Scotia’s Sable Island and my favorite Road to Kfarmishki. I felt that this was some sort of Turkish tune in an odd time signature (11/8, 12/8 , 14/8 or something like that) but the bass player Drew informs me that it a 4/4 tune with repeated two bar phrases. Oh well, I am not often right so I guess I am wrong again. Never-the-less it is a wonderful hypnotic tune that I really like. Here are some more images from a night of spellbinding music.
The patrons and the musicians would like to thank the Stone Fired Pizza for the food, A B&B AT 228 for the accommodations, Ray for the sound and all the organizers and volunteers that make the concert series possible.
Some Musical Notes:
Drew Birston plays a 1978 Fender Precision Bass.
Chris McKhool (no he is not Scottish) plays a five string violin tuned C G D A E (low to high) with an installed pickup and effect pedals. It is slightly larger than a conventional violin and allows the musician to cover the full sonic range of both the traditional violin and viola.
Kevin Laliberte plays a carbon fiber Blackbird guitar with a somewhat unconventional shape. From their web site: The Blackbird Rider Nylon’s one-piece, carbon fiber construction with hollow head, neck and body allows the entire guitar to resonate—–enhancing loudness, bass and sustain. You will never again face humidity or durability issues with the Rider carbon fiber nylon string guitar. With the optional Neck-up guitar accessory, your Rider is securely anchored– no footstool required! Plug it in and the optional MiSi or RMC individual string pickups accurately amplify your dynamic acoustic tone. BUILD TIME EIGHT WEEKS.
Anwar Khurshid plays a traditional Indian Sitar with installed pickups. Anwar tells me the instrument was built in 1479.I don’t know if I believe him. If it is true then it is in remarkable condition.
Jeff Faragher plays a standard symphonic cello with installed pickups and effect pedals.
I’m not a child of the Classic Rock Era. The sound track of my youth tended to be Jazz, Folk and later Celtic music. Having said that it would have been hard to ignore the revolution that took place in Pop music in the mid 1960s. I was in my mid twenties and although I was listening to the likes of Miles Davis and The Modern Jazz Quartet the electric guitar ruled the pop world and singer / song writers were shuffling the crooners and Tin-Pan Alley composers off into the sunset. Sure I knew the new rock sounds were there but I didn’t pay much attention to them. My rule of thumb was “if they are any good I will get to hear them eventually”. The Doors fit into that category. They were a little different from the run of the mill rockers and eventually they caught my attention. Although they had a rock persona and image they were not over the top. Essentially they were a bunch of minimalists that came came together in Los Angeles in 1965 with Jim Morrison as the vocalist and writer for the band; Ray Manzarek on keyboards; Robby Krieger on Guitar and drummer John Densmore. For recording purposes they would call upon highly skilled studio musicians to play bass and fill out the sound. The band got its name, at Morrison’s suggestion, from the title of Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception” . They were unique and among the most controversial and influential rock acts of the 1960s, mostly because of Morrison’s lyrics and charismatic but unpredictable stage persona. After Morrison’s death in 1971 at age 27, the remaining members continued as a trio until disbanding in 1973. The Doors released eight albums between 1967 and 1971. When you stop and think about it they were not really on the scene for very long and yet they have persisted and ended up selling over 100 million records over the years. Recently the keyboard player Ray Manzarek has released a number of videos on YouTube that give some insight into band and how they worked. This is the first one with that wonderful Rhodes Keyboard sound.
To put in in context here is the Doors doing the song:
Here are other YouTube videos by Ray Manzarek.
All the videos are an interesting peek behind the scenes of one of the most influential rock bands of all times.
Post script 2017/04/21 – I have just come across this really cool version of RIDERS OF THE STORM
Postscript May 24, 2017 – Another marvelous solo acoustic guitar version