Considering the similarities between prog rock and jazz
fusion, it’s surprising there hasn’t been more cross-pollination between
them. Adam Holzman is one of the few keyboardists who can claim
high-profile gig in both genres—and profile doesn’t get much higher than
working with Miles Davis.
Adam started with Davis as a synth programmer, and appeared on Davis’ famously electric album Tutu.
For four years starting in 1985, Adam toured with Davis, using
synthesizers and effects to help realize “the sound of the Gil Evans
orchestra with a small band.” When co keyboardist Robert Irving III
left, Davis appointed Adam the new musical director.
Today finds Holzman working with prog icon Steven Wilson
of Porcupine Tree. Acting on advice from Dream Theater keyboardist
Jordan Rudess, Wilson initially recruited Adam to help tour the Grace for Drowning album. Holzman has since recorded with Wilson on his latest, The Raven that Refused To Sing,
which was engineered by Alan Parsons We caught up with Adam about the
gear and techniques behind recording and touring the new record.
The Raven sounds very arranged, yet with lots of room for musicians to stretch out. How much was composed versus improvised?
Time was tight, but we’d done some preparation and
homework with demos. When the actual recording started, we did one song a
day. We’d record six or seven takes and pick the best one. Alan Parsons
really was fantastic at getting everything sounding great. The solos
were improvised, the comping was improvised, and all tracking was done
live. Doing the rhythm tracks, I would usually use either piano or
Hammond organ, and then overdub other keyboards.
What was used for the piano, organ, and Mellotron parts on the record?
Steven Wilson wrote many of the piano parts, but I played
them on the record, using the studio’s Steinway. We used a lot of
Hammond. The Mellotron is real, played by Steven. In fact, Steven’s
Mellotron is the one used on “In the Court of the Crimson King” and was
bought from King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. I played all the Rhodes and
How true to the record is the live presentation?
Little things change. The music is a hybrid of rock and
jazz, certain sections are always left open, and they change
accordingly. “Raider 2” has a nice sax solo section that’s great for
bringing in creative ideas on the spot. Steven is playing keyboards on
tour as well as guitar. He triggers some Mellotron and organ sounds from
[Apple] MainStage and some electric pianos in Lounge Lizard.
What gear are you using to take the record on tour?
Well, we’re not bringing a Steinway! I use the Korg SV-1
for piano, Rhodes, and Wurlitzer sounds. We don’t tour the Mellotron
either. Steven and I both use MainStage for Mellotron sounds. I use a
Minimoog Voyager live, and MainStage is controlled by a Behringer
keyboard controller. The Behringer also controls a Hammond XM2 organ
module, and I use its internal Leslie effect.
Click for larger image.
So you have both hardware and soft synths onstage? Which do you prefer?
When it comes to live performance, feasibility versus
sound determines what we use. I’ve never used a laptop on a gig before
this project. It’s better to have things dialed in. As much as I love
real piano and Rhodes, the SV-1 is the way to go onstage, especially
because you can tweak and save effects to your presets. Also, everyone
in the band is on in-ear monitors except Steven Wilson and I. I have
monitor wedges, and they’re pretty loud. Piano can sound strange when
pumped through monitors at that level, but the SV1 sounds great in those
circumstances—I can really pump it volume-wise, and it retains its
character and quality. I use a lot of effects live, too. I’ll play Wurly
on the SV-1 and run it through a wah and a Moogerfooger ring modulator.
I have a voltage pedal hooked up to my Moogerfooger, and I’ll push the
pedal to increase the tremolo rate as well as sweep the frequencies. I
do a fair amount of soloing on the Voyager, and of course having a
hardware synth with all those knobs is definitely better!
- CLICK HERE to see video of Adam's stage keyboard rig with Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree.
Do you find there’s much difference between the sound of a vintage Minimoog and a Voyager?
There are subtle differences, but with a little bit of
programming, you can make them sound the same. Of course, I love the
touchpad on the Voyager—you can’t do that on a vintage Minimoog.
How do you handle submixing all those sources?
There’s no submixing at all. Each sound source gets its
own channel in the front-of-house. Our engineer Mike Bond is awesome,
and he mixes all my keyboards from up front. However, I’m still blending
patches and volumes in real time. This is the first time I’ve ever gone
without submixing my own keyboards first.
Do you find using modern gear like this that once you get the sound how you want it, you’re pretty satisfied?
There might be small tweaks to the levels of patches, but
for the most part, those sounds are there. Even though the Voyager has
memory, its sounds change a little night to night. The Hammond XM2 with
its drawbar unit, though, has really made the organ much more fun to
play than the MainStage organs. The module really sounds like a B-3 and a
Leslie. Especially though a big P.A.—the difference is undetectable. So
all in all, the sounds do change a little bit night to night. But we’re
using a narrow spectrum of sounds, so though it’s kind of retro in a
way, the sounds really do live and breathe night to night.
You can catch Adam on tour with the Steven Wilson band in
Europe through the end of this year, including the Royal Albert Hall in
London in October. Find tour dates at stevenwilsonhq.com and visit Adam at adamholzman.com.