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Danny Thompson, Allan Holdsworth, John Stevens: “Propensity”

(Art of Life AL1038-2)

Digital Downloads | About the Music | Selected Quotations

Danny Thompson, Allan Holdsworth, John Stevens: "Propensity"

Danny Thompson:
acoustic bass

Allan Holdsworth:
12-string acoustic guitar, electric guitar

John Stevens:
drums

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Jools Toon (10:39)
(Listen to MP3 sample)



It Could Have Been Mono (15:48)
(Listen to MP3 sample)

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About the Music {top}

Art of Life Records is pleased to present a previously unreleased recording by three legendary British musicians. Bassist Danny Thompson (Pentangle, John Martyn, Tubby Hayes, Bert Jansch, Richard Thompson), guitarist Allan Holdsworth (Igginbottom, Nucleus, Tempest, Soft Machine, Gong, Bruford, U.K., Tony Williams New Lifetime) and drummer John Stevens (Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Tubby Hayes, Derek Bailey). Recorded at Island Studios, St. Peter's Square, in London, England on September 4th & 5th, 1978, "Propensity" includes two extended length group improvised tracks which prominently feature guitarist Allan Holdsworth on electric guitar ("It Could Have Been Mono") as well as 12-string acoustic guitar ("Jools Toon"). Other than the brief track, "Gone Sailing", from the album "Bundles" by Soft Machine recorded in 1975, this is the only known recording of Holdsworth soloing on a 12-string acoustic guitar. Holdsworth can be heard soloing throughout 90% of both tracks except during a few brief bass and drum solos. All tracks have been professionally mastered using 24-bit digital technology.

Selected Quotations {top}

This is a valuable document of a particular period in Allan Holdsworth's career as well as John Stevens. It is a very short but very fruitful meeting of two major forces in the music with the addition of a fabulous sounding bass player, Danny Thompson, to whom I've never had much exposure, other than his work with Pentangle. This is free/Jazz-Rock blowing of a very high order and Holdsworth uses his exceptional melodic sense and technique to expand to more adventuresome tonal territory than he was apt to be in then. Early McLaughlin of Lifetime is clearly influential here but Allan has established his own zone.

The opening "Jools Toon" finds Allan on 12-string acoustic, playing some semi-McLaughlinesque articulated chords while Stevens plays rapid free time and Thompson ad libs. Then Holdsworth plays some rapidly executed abstract runs that only he could do. He further gives forth with some more interesting out chords and sounded clusters while Thompson's bass sounds very nice behind him: busy and flowingly blazing. Holdsworth executes some more amazing lines, chromatically out there and richly expanded harmonically. Now Thompson plays a Mingus flavored assertion that's bluesy, hard and expanded against Holdsworths exotic chords while Stevens gets quiet with brushes. Then Stevens goes back to sticks with a swinging pulse, Thompson now walking. Holdsworth gives out with more cool chromatic lines that have a machine-gun articulation. It's an impressive performance. For the second number Holdsworth switches to electric six-string. "It Could Have Been Mono" is a longer excursion and it covers a great deal of ground. A quasi-"Lonely Woman" feel by the rhythm section compliments Holdsworth's rapid expanded-tonality runs. Stevens flirts with a Rock beat as he weaves around the swing and freetime pulse, giving a nice underpinning for Allan's outer excursion. Now Allan plays out chords while Thompson plays a good bunch of strident bass. Then Allan launches into some more blazing runs that do not land firmly on any pitch center but imply one that Thompson hints at as well. Thompson then gets the spotlight in a forceful solo that's Mingus & Haden and more besides, like perhaps a little Scott Lafaro? A loose bombastic swing from Stevens sets off a new torrent of guitar runs, with some repeating phrases to build excitement and tension, then off to the wide ranging runs all over the place. Stevens definitely pushes Allan along with Thompson solidly doing the same. Sevens gets a solo drum spot with lots of snare and toms and dynamic tension. The group comes back in for a Blues inflected finale. Thompson solos strongly in this groove, then Stevens comes swinging in with heat and Holdsworth in turn takes up the blues tonality and he plays in and out of it nicely. A fine ending to a fine outing.

It's a pity there isn't much else out there like this from the mid-to-late 70s period but the 26 minute teaser "Propensity" is a revelation and a great listen, too. A must for Holdsworth fans and those who appreciate great guitar trios in an outer vein. It also shows Danny Thompson to be a bassist of good taste, skill, and power. Oh, and John Stevens fans will dig this one too, I am certain.
Grego Applegate Edwards - Cadence Magazine

How many good studio recordings from the last 4 decades or more, lie lingering in the vaults of recording studios or in a deep and dusty nook of a musician's loft? These seem to need some good memories of those involved and then painstaking searching to recover, (master, etc.) and release; 'Propensity' appears to be one of these records that deserve recovery and fuller exposure.

The two recordings on this CD were made in September 1978, but not mixed until 1997 by a rare ex-pupil of Holdsworth, Jakko Jakszyk, and finally mastered early summer 2009 in the USA. The music finds Holdsworth during a very busy period of self-evaluation at the end of the 70's (including doubts about being in the music industry), and at the same time experimenting across a broad range of jazz (e.g. as illustrated by the radio broadcasts with John Steven issued over 3 CDs, the two albums recorded in France with Gordon Beck, industry rejected demos with Hiseman and Bruce, and according to Gary Husband laying down the 'IOU' album - which itself was released several years later). John Stevens ran a "school" of jazz improv and was well known in the UK for being one of the top free drummers. Danny Thompson was very much in demand on the UK folk circuit but also known for his uncompromising jazz playing.

The liner notes here are relatively limited so I guess these recordings were done in a similar way to the John Stevens/Allan Holdsworth radio recordings of this period, predominantly as improvisation. And with this probable spontaneity by a trio who seem to know each other well, most things are melodic. The playing skills of all three musicians are of the highest orders and pleasure to hear. And for me, the real joy is a rarity, an extended 12-string acoustic guitar solo by Holdsworth on the first track, 'Jools Toon'. The second track is longer and finds Holdsworth playing electric guitar flavoured with some of his signature playing.

This CD will be of great interest to Holdsworth fans in particular filling another brief gap in his musical history. But fans of Thompson (note who's name comes first in this pecking order), and Stevens will take great pleasure from this too.
R. J. Heath - United Kingdom

The first time that Allan Holdsworth worked with John Stevens was in 1977, where a lot of material was recorded by the band in England. As a result of a lot of extended jam sesions and recorded rehearsals the following recordings were released: "Touching On" (1977); "Conversation Piece" (1980) and "Retouch" (1983); And now "Propensity" (1978)...

The interesting thing about this disc is that it is showing part of Allan Holdsworth's "Acoustic Period" that goes from 1975 to 1979 with the following bands and tracks:

1. "Gone Sailing" with Soft Machine (BUNDLES, 1975);
2. "Floppy Hat", "Kinder" and "Last May" in his first ever solo album VELVET DARKNESS (1976)
3. "Shadows Of" and "Mireille" with Gong (GAZEUSE, 1976);
4. "Golden Lakes", "The Things You See", "Diminished Responsability", "She's Looking I'm Cooking" and "Up Country" with Gordon Beck in THE THINGS YOU SEE (1978);
5. "The Gathering" and "Sunbird", again with Gordon Beck in SUNBIRD (1979);
6. "Jools Tune" With John Stevens in PROPENSITY (1978);
7. And the introduction of his self penned track "Nevermore" for U.K. (U.K., 1978).

In this "Propensity" project the band was formed by Danny Thompson (Acoustic Bass), John Stevens (Drums) and Allan Holdsworth (12 string Acoustic and Electric guitars). "Propensity" contains just two pieces: the acoustic "Jools Toon" and the electric "It Could Have Been Mono". It was originally planned as a mini EP. Recorded and mixed in 1978 at Island Studios, St. Peter's Square, London, England; failed to see the light in the english market by company problems and produced by Danny Thompson in 1997 and now this CD is in the market.

I must say that "Propensity", for sure, in the modern Jazz field, is the better John Stevens recording because it is really interesting to listen to all of the "Free Jazz" soloing of Holdsworth (like in the good old days of Ornette Coleman or John Coltrane) in these two pieces. So don't miss the opportunity to add this disc to your collection... Good Luck!
Jeff T. Jesmorh - Mexico City

In 1978, the same year that Turning Point waxed Silent Promise, SME ringleader John Stevens entered London's Island studios with bassist Danny Thompson and guitarist Allan Holdsworth to record "Propensity". Though it's easy to forget, Holdsworth was no stranger to unfettered contexts, appearing on two 1977 Stevens LP's ("Touching On" and "Re-Touch", View/Konnex) before joining pianist Gordon Beck's Sunbird. "Jools Toon" is classic Stevens, the drummer's hum, patter and yelps a constantly-shifting carpet only occasionally catching on the bassist's pizzicato burrs. The SME was a unique outfit in that it could reel musicians of nearly any caliber into its collective orbit, whether schooled in post-bop or the unfettered freedoms of the 70s. Holdsworth acquits himself well, his crisp twelve-string flourishes giving way to pensive and contorted blocks that, while ornate, contain a vicious and flitting immediacy surely a product of SME openness. Holdsworth plugs in on "It Could Have Been Mono," a 15-minute piece rooted in freebop rhythms and gauzy semi-linear blues, the guitarist's rusty tone and convulsed pace responding to the rhythm section's dangerous clip. Though Derek Bailey and Roger Smith are the usual models for guitar playing in English free music, there's something to be said for the rapport Holdsworth's inventiveness and Jazz-Rock tendencies have with Stevens' freer approach.
Clifford Allen



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