Musics - The Guitarists

5 Jazz Rock and Jazz Not Rock

Holdsworth is the perfect combination of Jazz and Rock, which probably explains his lack of the huge audience he deserves. During the late ’70s, a number of fine stylists and virtuosos appeared, among them Steve Vai, Eddie van Halen and Joe Satriani, but the age of the guitar was coming to an end. Hip Hop was about to knock Rock from its rhinestone plastered throne. Dance encroached, and Pop would dominate sales again. Guitar breaks were ‘self-indulgent’, though how any aspect of performance is less narcissistic than any other is beyond me (unless it was Nijinsky masturbating on stage in the first enactment of L’Apres Midi D’un Faune, in 1911. Eat you pants Tracey Emin). Factually, singers or rappers once more fronted groups, as they had since the thirties.

Soft Machine - SoftsSoft Machine - Bundles
Brand X - MasquesBrand X - Macrocosm
Before joining up with Bruford, Holdsworth worked with Soft Machine for a while, recording the fine jazz-fusion album Softs. John Etheridge took his place to make the equally good Bundles. This British jazz fusion is almost a lost music. At first listen it may seem like an imitation of the American version — accepting that McLaughlin had become an emigré, an acclimatized Yank by this time — but further listening reveals a music with that very British self-deprecating amusement running through it. Post-Prog there were many examples of this form — ranging from Egg to National Health. John Goodsall was the lynchpin for the various different forms of Brand X. Check them on the sampler Macrocosm, or leap in and buy my favourite, Masques.

Return to Forever - Romantic WarriorJohn McLaughlin, Al DiMeola & Paco da Lucia - Passion, Grace & Fire
John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola & Paco de Lucia - Friday Night in San FranciscoAl DiMiola - Elegant Gypsy
McLaughlin had stirred my interest in Jazz with the first Mahavishnu Orchestra albums. I also liked Visions of the Emerald Beyond, though the title was a bit much. I saw, and enjoyed that version of Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1975, and that very same year I also saw Chick Corea’s Return to Forever with his amazing guitar player, Al DiMeola. Romantic Warrior is an immaculate ensemble piece, almost too perfect. DiMeola has also made a number of recordings with McLaughlin and the brilliant Flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia, I especially like Passion, Grace and Fire, but their debut, the live album Friday Night in San Francisco is also stunning. Dimeola’s solo albums include Elegant Gypsy, a highly successful fusion of Latin, Jazz and Rock, with some fantastic guitar playing.

Billy Cobham - Spectrum
After parting company with McLaughlin, in 1973, Billy Cobham made an album with Tommy Bolin. Spectrum remains as an epitaph to this fine guitar player, who died from a heroin overdose, aged only 25. Bolin completes the cross-over between Jazz and Rock — he combines the technique of Jazz with the sharp edge of Rock. It is rumoured that Bolin’s playing influenced Jeff Beck in his own highly successful jazzy albums Wired and Blow by Blow. Beck certainly hired Bolin to support him on tour. Spectrum is a must hear for anyone interested in the electric guitar. Bolin also played with the James Gang, and briefly fronted Deep Purple, as well as making solo recordings. A short life, and a busy one.

dvd: Steely Dan - Two Against NatureSteely Dan - Alive in America
The ’70s also saw the rise of Steely Dan, that most perfect of ever-changing session bands coalescing around Walter Becker and Donald Fagin. Becker was joined on guitar by such luminaries as Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Steve Khan and Dean Parks (they all play on Aja). Everyone gave a flawless performance. A new incarnation of the band toured in the early ’90s, and left a fresh benchmark for live playing with Alive in America. Year passed, and Becker and Fagin made Two Against Nature, accompanied by an excellent DVD. Would that you didn’t have to program out the chat between tracks after the first watch, ironic though it is.