One Week’s Musical Delights

The last week brought me several quite different musical delights. All of them were brought to me by musicians that I’ve been enjoying for 25 years or more. On the concerts, in the audience, I was mostly surrounded by old men … hmm …

March 20
Allan Holdsworth Trio (Allan Holdsworth, guitar; Gary Husband, drums; Jimmy Johnson, bass)

Allan is said to be a musician’s musician, or a guitarist’s guitarist. I don’t know how true it is that you have to be a musician to be able to dig what he does. Many people I know, many guitarists even, aren’t impressed by his music. But many other people, mostly guitarists, speak of him in awe. He has a unique style and a breathtaking technique.

The first time I’ve heard Allan play live was with the Soft Machine, back in 1975. The recent Soft Machine Floating World Live album is from that period. I bought the album a week ago and found that while Allan’s way of playing was incredible fluent even 34 years ago, it was much more rock oriented than it is today. He also played with progressive rock-fusion outfits such as Bill Bruford’s band but he eventually went away from this and towards a kind of jazz that is maybe more influenced by Coltrane.

On the gig a week ago, the trio was in incredible shape. Gary Husband and Jimmy Johnson were a wonderful rhythm group, true masters.

I stood in front of the stage and could see Allan play just 5 feet away (thank god I had my hitech earplugs because his Hughes & Kettner tower would have blowed my ears off otherwise). His solo lines were fluent as ever, his fingers did these incredible stretches across 7 or 8 frets, he jumped effortlessly across the fretboard in the breathtaking speed that he is famous for, and I don’t think he ever repeated himself – other than in the seventies where he had some trademark melody structures that he came up with often. And then there were these pieces where he played these series of „uncommon chords“, soft as clouds – I recognized none of them, and he didn’t repeat anything for minutes. It doesn’t happen often on concerts that I have no idea what is happening musically. On this evening, I was clueless but enjoyed myself immensely.

How wonderful that there are so many kinds of music that can make us fly, in many different ways. Allan and his band took us on a very adventurous flight.

March 23
Wire (Colin Newman, guitar and vocals; Graham Lewis, bass; Robert Grey, drums; and, as a replacement for the wonderful Bruce Gilbert who has sadly left the band a while ago, Margaret McGinnis on guitar)

Just a few days later, I found myself in a dense crowd in the Blue Shell club in Cologne, waiting for the British New Wave Art-Punk cult band Wire. In the early eighties, everyone I knew loved their first three albums – Pink Flag with its short and breathtaking punk hymn „12XU“, and the two follow-up albums (Chairs Missing, and 154) that were full of stunning compositions and unfamiliar sound worlds – they were an important part of my soundtrack for the early eighties, they had a strong magic of their own.

I had never seen Wire before and of course by now, they were old, and we were old (although there were a number of young people in the audience as well). Wire played several of their old famous songs but mostly new material from their current Object 47 CD. The majority of their new material is much simpler in structure than their pieces from the eighties – usually just based on two chords, sometimes there is just one chord, a monotonous drone punk with Colin Newman’s sparse vocals on top, but they know very well how to set this up to make it irresistable. Relentless and short statements, as fast and loud as the Pink Flag art punk that they had become famous with.

The audience loved them. Funny how surprised they were that we were so quiet and well behaved – apparently the British Wire audience is much louder. „You are so quiet – was it something that we said?“

March 27
John Hackett & Nick Magnus (John Hackett, flute, guitar + vocals; Nick Magnus, piano)

The German Genesis fan club had staged a 2-day Steve Hackett event. I was able to see the first night yesterday. Some unknown Steve Hackett live video material was shown, and the fans were able to talk to Steve in person during an interview.

After this, a good half hour of an „acoustic“ set with Steve’s brother John plus piano virtuoso Nick Magnus. They played some well known Hackett material and many pieces from John’s solo albums that I hadn’t heard before. What a delightful duo they were, very virtuoso and in complete command of their instruments, and quite humorous too. I loved how Nick, during the introduction to the next piece, morphed the piece’s title from „Le Chat Noir“ (called after a Paris club where Satie used to play piano) into „William Shatner“ (of Star Trek fame).

March 27
The Watch (Simone Rossetti, vocals; Giorgio Gabriel, guitars; Cristiano Roversi, bass & guitar; Fabio Mancini, keyboards; Marco Fabbri, drums)

The highlight of the first Hackett event evening was a Genesis cover set played by the Italian band The Watch. I had heard their first three albums and found that while the sound was very close to the trademark early Genesis sound, their compositions are interesting but somewhat less accessible at times – with some strange chord changes and melodies that seem to have a hard time to find a place to sit in my head.

For the Genesis fan club event, they covered early Genesis material – famous pieces mostly from Trespass and Nursery Cryme. They were amazing. Other than my good friend Hans who is a die-hard Peter Gabriel era Genesis fan and prefers the photocopy-close-to-the-original cover band Musical Box, I loved this cover band better – they were a bit less perfect, also very close to the original, but somehow a bit more lively and rough. Simone Rossetti’s ability to reproduce the young Peter Gabriel’s throaty voice with all its idiosyncrasies was almost uncanny.

Jon Hassell: Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street
(Jon Hassell: trumpet, keyboard; Peter Freeman: bass, laptop; Jan Bang: live sampling; Jamie Muhoberac: keyboard, laptop; Rick Cox: guitar, loops; Kheir Eddine M’Kachiche: violin; Eivind Aarset: guitar; Helge Norbakken: drums; Pete Lockett: drums; Dino J.A. Deane: live sampling)

Jon is one of my all-time favorite musicians, maybe the one who leads the list. His music means more to me than I can say. I still remember the first time I heard him, on the Brian Eno collaboration album called Possible Musics, back in 1980. I bought that album without knowing who Jon Hassell was because the name Brian Eno on the cover meant that it had to be good. Then I listened and didn’t get it at first. Hassell’s strange trumpet technique and vocal-like phrasings were unlike anything I had heard before. It took a little while before I understood with my ears and my heart. Then Jon suddenly spoke to something in me that I hadn’t known existed.

The short piece Empire V on Aka-Darbari-Java (1983) with its slow angular percussion rhythm, the very quiet short sample that runs through like a tin musical box, and its soft harmonizer trumpet melody lines gives me the goosebumps every time (even now, just thinking of it – funny how our nervous system works), and the longer Darbari Extension is like a permanent ticket to some mysterious timeless inner tropical landscape that resembles Mati Klarwein’s paintings that Jon also loves so much.

Over the years, Jon Hassell has quietly become an important influence for many jazz musicians. He is 70 now I think – I hope he’ll be able to stay productive for a long time. His current album is already precious to me and in constant rotation. There are so many details and wonderful atmospheres. Another milestone of a quiet giant.

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