Tommy Emmanuel, ‘Lewis and Clark’.

Aussie guitarist Tommy Emmanuel is an absolute monster–he’s as close to “if it can be played, he can play it” as anyone I am aware of.  He’s a master of both gobsmacking technique and performance persona, two things that rarely go together effectively.

And some of the songs are just breathtakingly lovely.  This one sneaks up on me every time I hear it on Pandora–I’ve now lost count of the number of times I’ve gone to give it a thumbs-up, forgetting that I already have.  That’s happened with a few other tunes, but nowhere nearly as often as this one.


Oh, to have been sitting in the control booth when he did that. Oi!

And then there is the magic of watching the man work:


Allan Holdsworth, ‘Devil Take the Hindmost’.

And so now “jazz” guitar legend Allan Holdsworth has passed.  I got my first exposure to his work via Bill Bruford’s first two solo records, and then the UK collaboration with Bruford, John Wetton, and Eddie Jobson.  Man, what a distinctive style:  I’m not sure there is anyone more distinctive, anywhere–and that even includes Robert Fripp, which for me at least is saying something!

Holdsworth is the guy, after all, that Frank Zappa called “the most interesting guy on guitar on the planet”.

After being blown away (as in:  “Holy shit, who is this?” about ten seconds after hearing him start to play) by Bruford and UK, I of course had to hear what else there was.  The first thing I found was Velvet Darkness, which I thought was fabulous, not realizing that he had always hated it (for very understandable reasons), and at some point I wound up with a couple other, later records, including Atavachron.  What I remember concluding, at the time, was that he was going exclusively in the direction of the SynthAxe, which just didn’t resonate with me musically.  And so he kinda fell off my radar for a while, until I discovered his 1975 and 1976 records with the Tony Williams Lifetime.  (What’s funny is that it was probably that work which drew Bruford to Holdsworth in the first place.)

Anyway, as I go back and listen to his stuff again, now with a little better understanding of what it means to be a player, Holdsworth’s wizardry jumps out at me even more.  The late William Grigg (himself no slouch as a guitarist) used to joke that Holdsworth was so harmonically advanced that it constituted prima facie evidence that he was in fact not human, but rather some form of alien being, sent here to show us what was possible.  (There are times, watching and listening to him play, when I’d not want to be the one to try and argue otherwise!)

The story goes that Holdsworth never wanted to be a guitar player, but rather a sax player (I’ve heard it claimed that when John Coltrane died, Holdsworth cried for three days), and so he developed a guitar style that was specifically intended to phrase and sound like a horn.  Well, I can certainly hear “sheets of sound” in his phrasing, and the blunted-attack, incredibly smooth legato sound he got seems like a marvelously imaginative way of having a horn player’s mind in a guitar player’s body.  Between the sound and the playing style, nobody else sounds even distantly like him.

He was also reputed to be incredibly critical of his own playing, even to the point of apologizing to an audience for it.

Man, that’s hard to believe.


(Direct link to video.)

Michael Hedges, ‘Because It’s There’.

Makes me want a harpguitar every time I hear it.

So. Ridiculously.  Lovely.

Pretty simple, by Hedges’ technical standards, but then he would have been the first to remind you that he never considered himself a guitarist, but rather a composer who happened to pick up the guitar.

Which might sound a bit like false modesty, except Michael Hedges.

Michael Manring, ‘The Enormous Room’.

So there is at least one human being capable of this:


I’ve been aware of Michael Manring for a while now;  I find his solo piece Selene to be one of the most gorgeous pieces of music I’ve ever heard, and in general I think it’s fair to say that his Hyperbass has been a gloriously worthwhile investment.  Manring is, for me, firmly in the short list of bassists who have done things that (far as I can tell) nobody did before;  he is so far beyond the “best of the Jaco clones” reputation that launched his early career, that he can no longer be dismissed as derivative.  If Jaco was the Hendrix of the fretless bass, and Percy Jones something between its Robert Fripp and Fred Frith, then Manring might arguably be something between the Michael Hedges and the John McLaughlin.  (To use, you know, comically simplistic analogies.  🙂

Ain’t nobody sounds like him.  For that, alone, he earns my respect.

But it’s not that, alone.  Just listen to what he does with it!  Even watching his hands in real time, it’s still hard to believe, sometimes, that one man with one bass can do that.


The ambient signal chain.

A few notes here, about my nascent interest in understanding the proper signal chain for doing the sort of ambient soundscapes that Chords of Orion has introduced to me.  For anyone who either happens across this post or who got sent here by me (upon threat of being made to work in the squirrels’ nut mines):  I would welcome constructive or enlightening comments to advance my understanding of what is a new area, but one of great interest, to me as a player.

Continue reading The ambient signal chain.