Monday, October 9, 2017

In Parallel (2017), by Dhani Harrison

thenewno2 and Fistful of Mercy member Dhani Harrison finally steps out on his own, and the result is quite – something.

While Dhani’s vocal resemblance to his late father is uncannily surreal, make no mistake – this is not your father’s Harrison (or your Harrison), nor is it Dhani’s father.

What sets Dhani apart from the other Beatles’ children who have followed in their fathers’ musical footsteps is the fact that Dhani is not aping his ancestor, and that is a very good thing. Where the elder Harrison found his voice in folksy, spiritual pop-rock balladry, Dhani is clearly creating his own sonic stamp, and it is a stunning and mesmerizing one at that.

The music is epic and darkly cinematic in scope, ebbing and flowing with pulsating synthesizers, deeply penetrating bass lines, entrancing and hypnotic beats, and flashes of fiery electric guitar. The result is very modern and dynamic, combining elements of George Harrison, Sting, Andy Summers, Moby, Hans Zimmer, and Tom Holkenberg (aka Junkie XL), all filtered through Dhani's vision and artistry.

While Dhani has succeeded in establishing his own unique musical identity, his father’s influence -- as well as, to a lesser extent, that of longtime family friend Jeff Lynne -- can be heard throughout, most notably on “The Light Under the Door,” “All About Waiting,” and “Admiral of Upside Down.”

The spirit and voice of his father live on through Dhani Harrison as he builds upon a great legacy and takes it in bold, new, and exciting directions.

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Gizmodrome (2017), by Gizmodrome

If you're a fan of Stewart Copeland's unique and distinctive talents as a drummer, soundtrack composer, and – yes – vocalist, you will absolutely love this album.

The Police, Animal Logic, and Oysterhead percussionist has enlisted the services of some of the best musicians in the business, resulting in one of the most exhilarating and whimsical progressive world rock releases ever.

Adrian Belew is, as usual, a trippy delight with his psychedelic acid rock electric guitar flourishes, as well as backup and occasional vocals. And while I'm not familiar with the work of Mark King, his performances here on bass and backup vocals are on the level. Rounding out the quartet is Vittorio Cosma on keyboards.

There is a palpable African influence on many of the songs, recalling Copeland's Rhythmatist and Leopard Son soundtrack albums. Traces of his Equalizer and other film and television themes can also be heard.

But even as the album features iconic elements of Copeland's and his band members' past work, the music is fresh, visceral, and ear-opening.

This is one supergroup that's really super.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Sixteen Men of Tain (2000, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

After having tackled jazz standards on his previous outing, Allan Holdsworth returns to original compositions, although the feel of his fusion this time is more jazz than rock.

Holdsworth still wields his electric guitar and synthaxe mightily, but with a softer touch thanks to his all-acoustic rhythm section and the presence of trumpet on a couple of tracks.

"The Drums Were Yellow," for example, could easily be "The Drums Were Mellow." But that's not a bad thing, because Holdsworth's more laid-back approach allows him to be more expressive and reflective, which is not to say that he hasn't been either of those things even at his typical high velocities of playing.

This is a nice, pleasant, and easygoing – but no less impressive – album that sets the stage perfectly for the mostly synthaxe session that follows.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, September 17, 2017

None Too Soon (1996, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

Allan Holdsworth proves himself to be quite the hep cat on this atypical and uncharacteristic album of mostly jazz standards.

Obviously, due to the nature of the material, this outing finds Holdsworth at his most subdued. But, Allan Holdsworth being Allan Holdsworth, the guitar great still manages to take off with delightfully dizzying displays of razzle-dazzle and come back in for a perfect landing at just the right place and the right time.

The music for the most part covers the iconic works of jazz icons such as guitarist Django Reinhardt and Holdsworth's idol, saxophonist John Coltrane. Also featured are a couple of original tunes by Holdsworth's keyboardist and frequent collaborator Gordon Beck, as well as a unique take on The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," which Holdsworth masterfully turns into a jazz standard all his own.

Whether covers or originals, Allan Holdsworth gives it all his all, creating an all-around pleasant album that should please jazz aficionados as well as fans of elegant, tasteful, and highly advanced electric guitar.

--Raj Manoharan

Hard Hat Area (1994, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

This is the very first Allan Holdsworth album I bought, back when it was originally released in 1994. I even remember the Greenwich Village CD store where I purchased it (incidentally, the same one where I got Sting's Ten Summoner's Tales a year earlier).

After having recently listened to Holdsworth's previous six releases, looking back in hindsight, Hard Hat Area is definitely his best work up to that point in his career. As to whether it's his best overall, I won't be able to say until I listen to his remaining five albums.

I can best assess this CD by responding to three customer reviews that drew my attention.

One listener states that Holdsworth's compositions are not very strong. If this were actually the case, Holdsworth's highly advanced guitar playing would merely be a pointless exercise in running up and down scales, which it absolutely is not.

The reviewer might be referring to the fact that the music is not primarily riff- or hook-based, like, say, the tunes of fellow guitarist Andy Summers. Holdsworth's songs are looser, but by no means less compelling, freeing him up to take off on extravagant flights of fretboard fancy. This is very much in keeping with the spirit of jazz improvisation that Holdsworth ascribed to, especially being an ardent fan and admirer as he was of saxophone legend John Coltrane.

Another commenter rightly points out that, unlike certain showboating shredders who do lightning-speed leads irrespective of the context in which they're playing, Holdsworth's fiery solos are always anchored to and serve the chord progressions and structure of the overall composition.

Finally, one fan writes that if you like lots of electric guitar, this album is worth it.

I wholeheartedly agree.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, September 9, 2017

40th Anniversary Police Playlists

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the formation of The Police, I have come up with the following two 10-track playlists.

Too Much Information (Fast-Paced Rockers)

Next to You * Peanuts * It's Alright for You * No Time This Time * Bombs Away * Man in a Suitcase * Too Much Information * Rehumanize Yourself * Synchronicity * Synchronicity II

Voices Inside My Head (Moody Ruminations)

So Lonely * Hole in My Life * Bring on the Night * Contact * Driven to Tears * Voices Inside My Head * Secret Journey * Darkness * Walking in Your Footsteps * Tea in the Sahara

A good bonus playlist would be all the non-album tracks from the 1993 set Message in a Box.

--Raj Manoharan

Wardenclyffe Tower (1992, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

While Allan Holdsworth's solo recording career took a couple of albums to get off the ground, there is no such thing as a bad Allan Holdsworth album, and Wardenclyffe Tower continues the guitar great's streak of top-flight, progressive jazz/rock/new age fusion releases.

Named after the experimental wi-fi station built by science genius Nikola Tesla on Long Island in the first decade of the 20th century, the disc lives up to that storied facility's spirit of technological innovation and enterprise.

The music is, as usual, slick and high-tech, with Holdsworth's guitar and SynthAxe and his band's bass, drums, and keyboards coalescing into a dynamic blend of scintillating sonic radiance and brilliance. Holdsworth's trademark sense of humor is on display as well, with the first tune punctuated by a hilarious, self-deprecating skit.

You could never go wrong with an Allan Holdsworth album, especially one with a bit of a history lesson, to boot.

--Raj Manoharan