Atavachron by Allan Holdsworth


This is a normal chord shape, right?

Today’s Essential Record is Atavachron by Allan Holdsworth.

If you traveled to a planet in a distant galaxy populated by a highly advanced alien life form, and then, after landing, you went into the local alien bar, this record would probably be playing on the jukebox.

Allan Holdsworth (born 6 August 1946) is an English guitarist and composer. He has released twelve studio albums as a solo artist and played a variety of musical styles spanning a period of more than four decades, but is best known for his work in jazz fusion.

Holdsworth is noted for his advanced knowledge of music, through which he incorporates a vast array of complex chord progressions and intricate solos, the latter comprising myriad scale forms derived from those such as the diminished, augmented, whole tone, chromatic and altered scales, among others, resulting in an unpredictable and “off” sound.

About his style

Yes, I'm wearing a sweater.

Yes, I’m wearing a sweater.

He has a distinctive playing style that involves a strong scalar sense, combining elements of jazz and progressive rock. The harmonic structure of his pieces can be highly abstruse, with frequently shifting tonal centres, and his soloing follows from a self-taught advanced modal framework derived directly from his unusually-voiced chords. His phrasing almost always features striking yet subtle transitions between notes that often work contrary to the listener’s expectations of consonance and dissonance, with wide and unpredictable intervallic leaps. In his solos he predominantly uses various legato techniques such as slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs (the latter being a personalised method which works more akin to a ‘reversed’ hammer-on);all of which result in an extremely fluid lead sound. One of the reasons for his renowned emphasis on legato, as opposed to picking, stems from a desire to make the sound between picked and legato notes indistinguishable.

Atavachron was released in 1986.  It has a futuristic sound, with complex harmonic and rhythmic structures.  It is the first Holdsworth record to feature the Synthaxe, a strange and haunting guitar synthesizer.  (The Synthaxe is used on track 1, “Non-Brewed Condiment”).  The writing and playing on this record is simultaneously fluid and extreme – Holdsworth relentlessly jumps from one tonal center to another while playing fast legato lines up and down the full range of the guitar.  Always spectacular, often bizarre, Holdsworth sends us signals of what effortless mastery sounds like on a distant planet.


Good news. On the C#7b5#5/A#, I can just play a Bb.

Jimmy Johnson is the long time bassist with Holdworth.  He does a great job balancing the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of this challenging music.  He is playing on his Alembic Series 2 Bass (his bass is pictured on the home page cover, and on the right).  He weaves his bass lines through the unfamiliar terrain, and gives his own observations about the flora and fauna of this strange place.

Back to the future with Atavachron by Allan Holdsworth.


“Non-Brewed Condiment”

“The Dominate Plague”


“Looking Glass”

“Mr. Berwell”