At 37 minutes in length one could be forgiven for wondering just how much one might need this in one's collection, especially at the rather silly price Amazon quote at the time of writing. Nonetheless, 37 minutes in the life of Allan Holdsworth's fingers are like 24 hours in anybody else's. So, for the dedicated Holdsworth fan, this is one of the must-haves from the golden years of his solo phase, when he delivered perfect albums, one after another. Along with this there came Sand,Wardenclyffe Tower and, to my mind his finest, and most compositionally accomplished, Hard Hat Area. In this era his solos were supremely tightly argued, filled with impossible leaping scales and big jagged intervals, with no extraneous notes. In subsequent years it seemed to me that his solos, though still exciting and totally original, became just a little flabbier as he struggled to find new things to say.
The overall experience of the album is one of taut energy. Nonetheless, there are passages of great sensitivity and oases of deep soulfulness to be found here. It is a very rich album which continues to yield up new details even after many listens, and with solos by all players that will continue to take the breath away no matter how often they are heard. The album is eight short songs made from repeating cycles of extended progressions of chords that lack proper names, that hover ambiguously between major and minor, and with subtle voicings only made possible by Allan's five or six fret hand span.
As ever his band mates are of the highest calibre. Two ex-Zappa drummers, with Vinnie Colaiuta bearing the brunt of the load, but with Chad Wackerman stepping in for two numbers. Both drummers keep the beat whilst simultaneously adding their own layer of orchestral colour to the tapestry. Stalwart sideman since the IOU days, Jimmy Johnson, provides telepathically integral bass and a couple of gorgeous solos. Vocals are provided on two tracks by a lady called Rowanne Mark. At first the virginal purity of her tone jarred a little, but repeated hearings have helped me to adjust and now I actually find her voice rather beautiful. Keyboards are supplied on three numbers by Steve Hunt and Alan Pasqua, with both turning in impeccable solos when required. Holdsworth's synthaxe provides colours that the uninitiated would swear to be keyboards if it were not for the trademark riffs with their Bartokian twists and turns, that only the mind of this great modern musical master can generate.
I first heard this album many years ago, lost it, and having just purchased it again I realise afresh how rich and multi-layered this music is. I remember reading the original sleeve-notes for this CD where the reviewer stated that the notes 'gleamed'. I think that's a great analogy. The notes truly glow with the purity of their own sound but also energised by the richness of the harmonies underneath.
And the harmonies are unlike anything you may have ever heard before. When first exposed to it they seem quite strange, but after a few listenings one becomes captivated by their beauty. I think '54 Duncan Terrace' illustrates this; the chords evoke the emotions for me of entering a new friend's house where, all at one time, I know there are complexities, histories, tensions, beauty, ghosts- but equally I cannot ever really know what's happening in that family. The intimate secrets remain dimly sensed but never fully perceived; eventually the door slams on me and I leave wondering...
Finally, the interplay of the drumming, piano and bass (again - listen to 54 Duncan Terrace while the 'ghost' speaks) is masterful on this album; 'Joshua' and 'Maid Marion' particularly show drumming at its best.
A musical masterpiece in my opinion, and my favourite Allan Holdworth work.
Though side 2 doesn't quite stand up to side 1, the standard of music here is top notch. The standout track is "Joshua", but elsewhere there is plenty to please. The music twists and changes throughout the album, and never gets self-indulgent or boring. My introduction to Allan was seeing him live on the tour supporting this album in 1989, and I would recommend this to somebody exploring his music for the first time.
I don't think I can add really that much to all the 5-star reviews already, except to say that recording is creative, adventurous and all of those good things jazz orientated / improv based things should be. I hear something new every time (as a musician I still listen to this and learn). It also strikes me that as Fusion has since divided into two paths, one being the "gymnastic and athletic" approach with very little if not zero musicality and also the other type: where despite any technical stuff is still a "music first" project.
This recording is the latter and is unfortunately for me becoming something of a dying genre i.e. music that is improvised, creative, adventurous, vital, vibrant, daring and still above all MUSICAL.
I am of course biased (as I have probably said in other reviews); the performances are all great. As a fan, Vinnie Colaiuta shows his genius in both technicality and musicality. He propels and lifts the tracks he plays on to create a harmonious abundance of musical colour.
This is a must have for any rock, fusion, jazz lover or musician alike.
Secrets by Allan Holdsworth is, in my opinion, one of the greatest musical works ever recorded. That's a bold statement I know, but it's that important an album. It is 100% raw musical creativity in its most beautiful, crystalline form. Don't be put off by people who say that this music is 'far out' fusion or pyrotechnic guitar work. To say such things is short sighted in the extreme. Just like saying that the Taj Mahal is four walls and a roof, it completely misses the point. Secrets bypasses all conventional notions of what 'music' should sound like. Allan's arrangements are like nothing else you'll ever hear - they're beyond any contemporary classification. This can mean for many people that it is a difficult listening experience, but if you approach this album with no preconceptions and actually listen to what Allan is saying, it will touch your soul in the most direct way music can ever do. The first time I ever heard this album (some 15 years ago as a narrow-minded teenager with little breadth of musical knowledge), it changed the way I looked at music forever. Emotionally, it was an overwhelming experience. The only problem with this album (if you can call it a problem), is that it is so far ahead of its time. Many people aren't ready to appreciate Allan's uncompromising and truly breathtaking talent, and will dismiss his music almost immediately. More's the pity for them. I'm sure in the future Allan will rightly be recognised for what he is - one of the greatest musicians humankind has ever produced, and way ahead of his time. It really is that important an album - buy it now.