British guitarist Allan Holdsworth is no fool when it comes to choosing his musical sidekicks and has consistently surrounded himself with such including low-end luminaries as Skuli Sverrisson, Gary Willis, Ernest Tibbs, the late Dave Carpenter, and, of course, Jimmy Johnson, who figures on more of Holdsworth's recorded output than any other bassist.
"In The Mystery" is another of those tracks that bamboozled me as a young teen. I knew the bass playing was something special and that the mysterious Jimmy Johnson was supercool. But, without a firm handle on Holdsworth's approach to harmony, it was impossible for me to figure out why the bass -- and everything else for that matter -- sounded so great.
Jimmy likely used a graphite-necked fretless Alembic Series I for the track, during which he fires off a killer groove and some scintillating fills. He generally uses one of his fretted Alembics for touring and recording, but when he does dust down a fretless, it's always something special.
As usual, Holdsworth's harmony is full of the little quirks and deviations from the "norm" that give it that unmistakable "Holdsworthian" sheen. In "Panic Station" -- also on Metal Fatigue -- Holdsworth uses a pitch-shifter/harmonizer set to play a fifth above whatever note he sounds. "In The Mystery," however, is free of such effects, but check out how Allan employs such devices as playing a stock major triad with the #11th added (imparting a subtle Lydian feel to proceedings) but with no chord-defining 7th, as seen in the Ab(add#11)/C chord seen in bars 6, 9, etc. and the Db (add9, #11) chords seen in bars 8, 20 etc.
Holdsworth's voicings and harmony are often beautifully ambiguous and it would be possible to settle on a variety of bass notes and still sound "correct." However, Jimmy's skill in this regard, is his ability to pick the optimum chord-defining notes and develop them into coherent lines and interesting musical ideas.
Though Johnson's main verse groove is based around a series of punctuated Cs, note how he stretches the notes over a two-octave range to add interest and contrast. Also, check out his unorthodox lines in sections E, H and J, where he balances long sustained A-naturals with flurries of 16ths played high up the neck, (hinting at subtly changing harmonies in the process.)
Transcription © Stevie Glasgow 2010