One Track Mind: Holdsworth/Pasqua/Haslip/Wackerman – "Fred" (2010)

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Fusion guitar big dog Allan Holdsworth has been in a number of notable bands: The Soft Machine, Gong, UK, Level 42…but the brief, mid-seventies stint he had in Tony Williams’ reconstituted Lifetime band have made up some of the fondest memories for him. About a decade ago, he honored his old boss and late drummer with a stupefying performance on “The Drums Were Yellow.”

Going a step further with the tribute in 2006, both he and fellow New Lifetime bandmate keyboardist Alan Pasqua toured largely in tribute to their old band. Williams’ peerless chair was manned by the very capable Zappa alum Chad Wackerman, while Yellowjackets co-founder Jimmy Haslip filled in for original bassist Tony Newton. Together, this fusion supergroup made a live souvenir from this tour called Blues For Tony, which released this past January.

But instead of dwelling on every song of this album, I’m going to pick out a track that’s a standout in this two-disc set. “Fred” is an old Holdsworth tune, going back in fact to the 1975 Lifetime LP Believe It. For a vehicle designed to rip all over, it’s got a glowing, harmonious theme, one that enriched by Holdsworth and Pasqua with his electric piano playing it together. Holdsworth wisely left enough gaps between the passages to give Williams the room to manuever in some wicked fills. This song largely set the mold for Holdsworth own memorable albums from the 80s and beyond.

The contemporary version of “Fred” doesn’t deviate in terms of the basic arrangement. It’s still performed by guitar, keyboards, bass and drums, with the first two instruments played by the same guys. It’s got the same punch as the earlier version. The interesting points for comparison are found in the details of the performance.

Pasqua is playing like the Pasqua of thirty years earlier, a reinvigorated man. When he turns his electric piano into a echoing, dirty, growling animal mid-solo, you know he’s not mailing it in. Holdsworth follows after and here the noticeable advancement in his technique becomes apparent. He played it great back with Williams, but this time, his lines are more fluid, his modulation is impressively flawless and that Holdsworth Tone is in its full glory. You just know within a second that this is Allan playing and it can’t be anyone else. Wackerman fills in Williams’ shoes good enough…actually, more than good enough. Like the original, Wackerman doesn’t offer up a drum solo but is filling up all available space working in tandem with the soloists. He shares Williams’ penchant for taking chances, but attacks his kit with his own sense of purpose. Combining relentless fills and cymbal crashes, Wackerman is clearly the driving force behind this song.

For a song with an unassuming name, “Fred” assumes virtuosic power and control. Balls-out fusion when done right can be as much of a pleasure to rock along to as much it can be to marvel at. That’s what Holdsworth, Pasqua and their two in-demand surrogates did for AH’s enduring classic. There’s no better way they could fete the late, great Tony Williams.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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