Wikipedia: “The Sixteen Men of Tain is the tenth studio album by guitarist Allan Holdsworth, released in March 2000. The album’s title is a reference to the Glenmorangie distillery in Tain, Scotland. The Sixteen Men of Tain was the last recording to be made at Holdsworth’s personal recording studio, The Brewery.”
There appear to be 17 men here but hey, maybe Holdsworth was sampling the wares.
A little Holdsworth history: Born in 1946 he was part of that generation of British guitarists (Clapton, Beck, May, etc.) whose guitars changed the world. But he did not go the traditional blues/rock route that his peers did. In fact, not only is he not a household name but outside of musical circles he never got anywhere near the fame of those guys.
Like John McLaughlin he instead went the jazz route and wound up, understandably, playing in prog bands like Soft Machine and with guys like drummer Tony Williams and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. In the late 70s, he teamed up with Bill Bruford in the band prog band U.K.
A gentleman named Edward Van Halen raved about Holdsworth to one of the guitar mags and he wound up getting a contract. His first release was an EP called Road Games which included Jack Bruce but weirdly, only on vocals.
Holdsworth is primarily known for his phenomenal playing and musicianship. He was a “technical” player who knew all his chords and scales but made it sound human. “His unique legato soloing technique stemmed from his original desire to play the saxophone. Unable to afford one, he strove to use the guitar to create similarly smooth lines of notes. He also became associated with playing an early form of guitar synthesizer called the SynthAxe, a company he endorsed in the 1980s.”
As to this album, I was clued into it by a fellow guitar player. Recall that when I went to LA back in the Before Times to play phony rock star, I met up with my friend Steve’s son, Brian. He is a big fan of this kind of shit and is a monster player himself.
I was pretty much expecting a lot of guitar masturbation but what I got instead was a lot of great jazz playing. And the trumpeter on this album, a guy named Walt Fowler is just fantastic. In fact the whole band fucking cooks.
AllMusic says, “Coming on the heels of some rather mediocre efforts, The Sixteen Men of Tain is startlingly superb. Holdsworth has stripped away the distracting banks of keyboards and allowed his soaring, gliding guitar to shine through in a way it hasn’t since the 1980s.
Dave Carpenter’s acoustic bass is a radical departure (check out his solo on the title track), as are Walt Fowler’s two guest appearances on trumpet. “The Drums Were Yellow,” a burning guitar/drum duet tribute to the late Tony Williams, is also a first. Gary Novak’s drumming is appropriately complex and riveting on this and six other tracks.
In short, this album is full of fresh ideas and unadulterated improvisational brilliance — just when it was beginning to seem that Holdsworth’s best work was behind him.”
Alas, Holdsworth’s best work is behind him as he passed away in 2017 at the age of 70. But his work still lives on. Check it out.