|By Phil DiPietro allaboutjazz.com
In a world of guitar players there stands just one Allan Holdsworth-or does there? Many think he is the world's greatest living guitarist, and one of the greatest instrumentalists in history. You'd think on an instrument with a past rich in “copping” licks and “nicking” styles there would be more out and out imitators, but obvious ones are relatively scant. Sure, almost every guitarist on the planet has been influenced by him, but there are not many guys going for exactly the whatever it is that Allan has been doing for the last three decades. While I always thought it was just a matter of time before someone really nailed it, I was almost sure it wouldn't happen in my lifetime. Now, suddenly, somebody has - and it's not any of the usual suspects like America's Scott McGill , Venezuela's Rigel Michelina , British Columbia's Elliot Freedman or Austrian wunderkinds Alexander Machacek or Martin Koller , all fine players often associated with Holdsworth's bag, especially his liquid single-note technique.
Ready? It's Italy's Nico Stufano, and no review should begin without proper reference and deference to the great ale-drinking Yorkshireman. It's all here - the slab-thick-toned legato phraseology, chromatic laced, oft-times interval based single note virtuosity, impossible hyper-speed facility and yes, all those “uncommon chords.” Even Holdsworth's current compositional style-not the old head/verse/solo section format, but the chordal tone poem roadmaps that continue movement, overlapping and evolving, is present. I am entirely confident of my assessment here-I can't imagine anyone taking a “blindfold test” not thinking this is Holdsworth. This spurs many questions. How did Stufano achieve this, without us ever having heard of him before? Why is there a nine year gap in his discography on the only website that offers any information about him? Where did he find these other guys on the record (talk about being overshadowed)-the drummer Mimmo Campanale, bassist Paolo Romano, and pianist Mario Rosini, all great players in their own right? Most importantly, is this some kind of homage, or Nico's real style and musical essence?
So, what to do? How to judge? So what if another artist can paint just like Monet (hey, isn't that Manet )? I'm assuming that the core group of fervent Holdsworthianados is going to exhibit more than a fair amount of backlash and criticism against this one, given the sacrosanct pedestal of guitar-god-dom they've placed their hero upon. What a waste that would be. Do this instead-be thrilled and amazed- as I am when I listen to Allan or Nico, the same, for example, as if listening to Wes Montgomery or George Benson.
All this being said there are a few differences you can hang your ears on to prove it's somewhat dissimilar. The lyrical steel stringed beauty of “Forever” and the pure acoustic non-legato scale-based nylon bop of “Moontrappers” (nicely done over electric comping) are most gorgeously apart. “Waiting for Summer” sports a bubble-squeezed, vibrato-full single-note tone, and when Nico scats along in very capable Sting-raspy voice, with all the power of a Benson or Burbridge, you'll start to think he may just have an entire alternate career up his sleeve.
But it's the electric side that gives goose bumps, as on “Koi Koi” where a koto-like intro gives way to an epic Beckian pump. I don't know if it's intentional, but the head to “Secret Mirror” is an inventive reworking of “Letters of Marque,”certainly the leadoff tune in the Holdsworth songbook, wherein Stufano floats beefy legato tone over ethereal synth and organ pads, and truly exhilarates by solo's end. Finally, we must note the explosive drums/guitar intro to “The Last Room,” which offers nothing short of conclusive proof of Stufano's musical mettle.
Some live appearances in front of slackjawwed audiences would go a long way to explaining a bit more of Nico's story, which so far is cloaked in musical mystery. In the meantime, the best way to fill in the blanks is by making the commitment to deal with whatever steps necessary to get this amazing release through Nico's Italian website .