[Review] Allan Holdsworth: Velvet Darkness (1976)

CTI’s “stolen” recording session of Allan Holdsworth in a fusion quartet to be filed under Mahavishwegotpaid.

Kronomyth 1.0: The soundcheck is in the mail.

Velvet Darkness is a musical bastard. Holdsworth himself has disowned it as the illegitimate offspring of a recording session that was never paid for or approved. This has not stopped record labels from re-releasing it over the years or fans from praising it. Featuring a mix of fiery fusion instrumentals and acoustic guitar interludes, Velvet Darkness is occasionally breathtaking. The performances are excellent; I gained a newfound respect for Narada Michael Walden and Alan Pasqua after hearing this album (I was already impressed with Alphonso Johnson).

“It was no good. It was never any good. The way it was recorded, what happened to the musicians, the whole thing. It was a complete disaster.” – Allan Holdsworth on Velvet Darkness, as quoted in a 1993 Innerviews interview.

I agree with Holdsworth that the performances are far from perfect. “Wish,” for example, just ends. Three acoustic numbers is a bit much, 30 minutes of music isn’t enough at all. But if you listen to “Velvet Darkness” and think “Hmph, it could have been better,” then I pity you your perpetual disappointment with everything. In addition to the unexpected acoustic performances, Holdsworth plays violin on “Karzie Key” before switching over to electric guitar and blowing you away all over again. I can understand Holdsworth’s frustration at not being able to polish these pieces and (more importantly) not getting paid for them, but if this is a “complete disaster” then call me a complete idiot. I see this as a window into the early workings of one of the era’s great guitarists. Later reissues shamelessly included alternate takes, so you may want to start there, but Holdsworth fans will definitely want to check this out in one form or another. You can send a $5 check to Allan’s estate if it makes you feel better.

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Original LP Version

A1. Good Clean Filth (5:20)
A2. Floppy Hat (2:46)
A3. Wish (4:20)
A4. Kinder (3:07)
B1. Velvet Darkness (4:42)
B2. Karzie Key (3:11)
B3. Last May (1:38)
B4. Gattox (4:51)

CD reissue bonus tracks
9. Good Clean Filth (alternate take) (5:38)
10. Kinder (alternate take) (3:07)
11. Velvet Darkness (alternate take) (4:44)
12. Karzie Key (alternate take) (2:15)
13. Gattox (alternate take) (6:47)

All songs written by Allan Holdsworth.

The Players

Allan Holdsworth (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, violin), Alphonse (Alphonso) Johnson (bass), Narada (drums), Alan Pasqua (piano). Produced by Creed Taylor; engineered by Rudy Van Gelder.

The Pictures

Cover photo by Mitchell Funk. Album design by Rene Schumacher.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in 1976 in the US and Canada (CTI, CTI 6068) and Japan (CTI, GP-3086) with gatefold cover.

  1. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc and cassette in 1990 in the US (Epic, CK/ZT 45482) with 5 bonus tracks.
  2. Re-issued on compact disc on December 16, 1994 in Japan (CTI, KICJ-8066).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc on June 21, 1997 in Japan (CTI, KICJ-8215).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc on July 26, 2000 in Japan (CTI, KICJ-8319).

2 thoughts on “[Review] Allan Holdsworth: Velvet Darkness (1976)

  1. I totally agree with your review. AH got screwed with this session but I am pleased to be able to add this to my extensive collection of his music. My first experience of him live was with Soft Machine back during the Bundles era. FLOATING WORLD LIVE is superb and this takes me back to the Main Point outside of Philadelphia where I saw them in 1974. I saw AH again with the New Tony Williams Lifetime in 1976 at the same club. The next time was with UK in Boston in 1978 which is the UK Live in America CD. Latterly I saw AH with his band in Abertillery, South Wales in 2006. After the gig I chatted with him briefly and he signed my copy of Chad Wackerman’s CD 40 REASONS which I bought that evening. He was a lovely soul who has blessed my life with so much amazing music and I will never forget the privilege of hearing him live over nearly 40 years.

  2. I am not sure but I believe I heard a second version of Floppy Hat, or Kinder, from a later album on Youtube (maybe with Stanley Clarke), but I can’t find that file anymore. Am I crazy?

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