Unlike my review of Holdsworth's "None Too Soon" which featured interpretations of jazz standards from artists like John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Irving Berlin, the 1993 release "Hard Hat Area" contains original material composed by Holdsworth and members of the performing band. The instrumental album recorded three years before "None Too Soon" was the prototypical hard driving jazz/fusion album we've come to expect from the guitar virtuoso - a showcase for his incredible technical dexterity, spacious ambient soundscapes, and free-form sonic experimentation.
And the 2011 digitally re-mastered disc sounds incredible. Whereas many re-mastered discs are compressed and mixed way too crisp - sending me scampering to my equalizer for some much needed mid-range and bottom end - "Hard Hat Area" retains that warm spacious sound of old school analogue spread-out and layered to perfection.
For "Hard Hat Area" his signature SynthAxe and baritone guitar are used sparingly, making his instrument of choice the regular electric guitar. Yet ever the innovator, Holdsworth experimented with an unusual synthesizer controller called the Ztar which is like a mini-keyboard but laid out with the guitarist in mind, featuring a guitar neck fretboard instead of the standard piano-style keyboard configuration. The instrument is laid flat and played like a pedal-steel guitar but with the capability of playing multiple notes on the same string for some amazing sonic effects.
For Holdworth fans this re-master is a must have. And for the uninitiated who judge their guitar heroes by nimble fingered speed and fluidity - then you owe it to yourself to check-out "Hard Hat Area" or Holdsworth's early albums "Velvet Darkness", "Road Games" or "I.O.U.". And you may find yourself in total agreement with Frank Zappa who called Holdsworth: "one of the most interesting guys on guitar on the planet".
Besides Allan Holdsworth (guitar & SynthAxe), the line-up on "Hard Hat Area" includes Steve Hunt (keyboards), Skuli Sverrisson (bass guitar) and Gary Husband (drums).
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on May 16th, 2012