Allan Holdsworth Chords on a Jazz Standard – Advanced Modern Chord Voicings

Allan Holdsworth is of course famous for his fantastic chord voicings and use of extended chords. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to take a standard and try to play through it with the type of chords that Holdsworth might use, so I took the song Days Of Wine And Roses and went through that applying chords and voicings with that in mind.

Holdsworth and Standard Jazz Harmony

The music of Allan Holdsworth is of course not based on the same type of harmony that you find in a jazz standard, and in his chord vocabulary there are many different types of voicings. The ones I chose to focus on in this video are the more open chords that are spread out over several octaves. Since the music that Holdsworth plays is also a different harmonic language my chord choices are a bit different. This is mostly because I would have to completely reharmonize the piece to get closer to those chord sounds, and for now I feel that it would missing the point. I really want to try to bridge the gap between this type of  voicings and more standard jazz chord progressions for this lesson. Maybe in another lesson I can also adapt the chord sounds a bit.

A lot of these are Drop2&4 voicings or derived from that, though not all of them. If you want to check out more on drop2&4 voicings to make it easier to play and understand what I am doing here you can do so here:

Drop 2&4 chords

Using the funny inverions and Drop2&4 voicings

The chord voicing is actually an inversion of a very common Fmaj7(9) voicing with the notes A G F and E spread out over two octaves. The original is a very common “bossa nova” chord: F A E G.

The 2nd chord: Eb7 is constructed by voice leading the first voicing, so A moves to G, F to Eb, G to A and E to Db. This gives us an Eb7(b5) voicing which is in fact also an inversion of an Drop3 Eb7(b5).

The Am7(b5) voicing has some added “Holdsworth color” because I opted for a Am7(9b5) which I here play with an Ebmaj7(#5) Drop2&4 voicing. 

The D7alt is voiced with a drop2&4 D7(b9b13) chord, which you could also look at as being an Ebm6 chord.

Mixing drop3 and drop 2 and 4

Both Drop2&4 and drop3 voicings share that they contain larger intervals, and this means that you can often easily get away with mixing them.

This happens on the Gm7 below where the first chord is a Bbmaj7 drop2&4 voicing that then is followed with a drop3 Bbmaj7 voicing. The drop3 is played a bit odd because I skip a string in the middle, but like this the sound between the two fits better. I didn’t actually notice that it was a drop3 in the beginning.

The Bbm7-Eb7 is a straight ahead way to voice IVm II V in F: Dbmaj7 and Eb7(b5) both drop2 and 4.

The chord voicings that I am using on the Am7 is a stack of 4ths over a low E. The voicing is less common because it has the 3rd and 7th high in the chord and the 5th and 11th lower.

The Dm7 chord is coming out of voice leading the Am7 to F, so it has a Dm7(9) sound.

On the Gm7 C7 I start with the Drop3 Gm7(9) and move from there to a C7(13) drop2&4.

Spread Triads with added notes

To me the emphasis, when using these voicings is on the sound of the chord more than the functional character of the progression. This is evident both in the voice leading and also in the way I play the chords as mostly sustained surfaces of sound.

That actually makes it a bit difficult to really get it to work on the kind of progression shown here below. The First two bars are repeating material that I already covered.  The only thing worth noticing is of course that the Eb7(b5) from bar2 can also work as an A7(b5).

On the Gm7 I use a Bbmaj7 spread or open-voiced triad and then over that triad I add an 11th( a C). This voicing has a 5ht interval as the highest interval and I move this interval up a 1/2 step to the C7alt (which is then a C7(b5b9).

Parallel fifths!

The parallel fifths that are moving already on the Gm7, C7alt are resolved as a G and D on the Fmaj7. This is coming from voice-leading the C7alt.

The Eb7(b5) is a standard drop2&4. The Am7(b9) is also a drop2&4 this time I am using a CmMaj7 chord voicing to add the 9th to the sound. THe D7(b13) is another drop 2 and 4 voicing.

Re-using voicings on other chord types

The first two voicings on Gm7 are the same as in the first half. On the Bbm7 I am using the same voicing as I started with on the Fmaj7 in bar 1. Now I am playing it from F and it contains F,Db,Eb and C which is a Bbm(9,11) sound. In the context the Ab is not really missed. 

The Eb7 is coming out of voice leading the Bbm chord and contains G(3rd),Db(b7),A(#11) and C(13th).

A few different ways to derive new voicings

The Am7 voicing here below is using the same structure as we saw on the Gm7 before the half of the song: An Open triad with an added 11th. The Dm7 is a Drop2 and 4 Fmaj7 voicing where the A is substituted with a G so that we have a Dm7(9,11).  I really like this voicing with it’s stack of 5ths and the added 9 on top.

On the Bm7(b5) I am using a straight Bm7(b5) drop2&4 voicing. 

The Bb7 is played with an FmMaj7 voicing, this one derived from teh Fmaj7(9) voicing I used in the beginning but now with an Ab instead of an A. 

The last 4 bars start with an Am7 voicing that are coming out of voice leading the Bb7. I chose to add a 9 even if that is not really in the key of F.

The Dm7 and Gm7 are both drop2&4 voicings that I talked about earlier.

The C7alt voicing is another drop2&4, but this time with a C7(#9b5) which has a major 6th as the highes interval (Gb toEb).

The turnaround is reharmonized a bit so instead of going to F I resolve first to a Dbmaj7 using the drop3 voicing I also used on Gm7 and a Gbmaj7 that is voiced with the chord I also started with. This also makes it easy to loop the whole progression.

How to use this lesson

I hope you can use this etude to learn some new chords and hopefully you can also get some ideas for new voicings and also a bit of insight in how you comp with these larger interval structures in the style of Allan Holdsworth.

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Allan Holdsworth Voicings on Days of Wine

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