Category Archives: Jean-Luc Ponty

Jean-Luc Ponty Discography

Somewhere in the dim and mote-filled halls of the conservatory/factory where young, impressionable hands are chained to the Byzantine machines of long-dead madmen, one mind rebelled. It was the gypsy music of American jazz, the exotic smoke that spilled from the bronze censers of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, that captured the imagination of a young student named Jean-Luc Ponty. When the smoke cleared, the classical world and its dying gods were one gray, gifted violinist poorer, and the rest of the workaday world one technical electric violinist richer.

An album of unremarkable (save for the remarkable presence of the violin) bebop followed in the form of Sunday Walk (1967), but the real magic began when Ponty plugged in his violin and began making jazz fusion albums. In between apprenticeships with the archmages Frank Zappa and John McLaughlin, Ponty quietly went about setting the jazz world on its ear by thrusting his electric violin into the new language of electric jazz, beginning with the grand guignol gesture of an entire album of Zappa compositions recorded with the Mothers, King Kong (1970).

After the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Ponty swam into the wide, cold arms of Atlantic and began making progressive rock/fusion albums that capitalized on the commercial market created by Mahavishnu, Return To Forever, Weather Report, etc. By the release of Imaginary Voyage (1976), a Ponty album could be expected to rise near the top of the US Jazz charts and make a rumbling among the general record-buying public as well.

The Atlantic Years (1975-1985) represent for many the sirloin of his body of work, although by Individual Choice (1983) his growing interest in synthesizers and a general sameness in his work (which had admittedly been there from the beginning) suggested that his progressive rock experiment had run its course, a discovery that most progressive artists had made simultaneously. As with many of his contemporaries, Ponty took his adventurous spirit into the field of world music, releasing Tchokola (1991) and No Absolute Time (1993) with African musicians. In 1994, he teamed up with Al Di Meola and Stanley Clarke for an acoustic world tour that resulted in one album, The Rite of Strings (1995). A decade later, he and Clarke repeated the experiment with Béla Fleck.

In the coffeeless coffee shops of the progressive pedant, debate still rages on over the greatest fusion jazz guitarists, but among these hierophants of higher musical consciousness few would begrudge Ponty his pedestal as the greatest electric fusion violinist of his era. The man has carved out a remarkable niche for himself, and while a strict diet of Ponty would be restrictive, I can personally and heartily endorse Upon The Wings of Music (1975), Aurora (1976), Imaginary Voyage (1976), Live (1979) and Fables (1985).

Continue reading

Jean-Luc Ponty: Sunday Walk (1967)

Kronomyth 2.0: NO WALK IN THE PARK. This is the pre-prog, unplugged Ponty, which may or may not be your cup of pomegranate tea. I bought a used copy of this years ago, loaned it to someone, never got it back and never really cared. I’ve always felt it was a mixed success, maybe because the idea of a jazz violin seemed revolutionary at the time and yet the bebop arrangements of Sunday Walk were anything but. I guess it’s a new wine in an old wineskin kind of a thing, he wrote, further confounding readers with one of the more obscure parables. In a year or two, this music would be trumped by King Kong anyway. The album has been released many times over the years (I would take the discographical data below with a few grains of salt), often credited to The Jean-Luc Ponty Quartet, which has more to do with loose licensing than popular demand. The supporting players are solid, if a little academic in their approach; jazz always seemed like some pickled curio in the mouth of Europe, but that may be my personal bias. I suppose I could point out individual tracks in the interest of providing some value today, although I honestly don’t have any “favorites” on here. The closing “Suite For Claudia” is at least pretty, and the opening “Sunday Walk” is exciting. (There, I can check off an imaginary checkbox that says “discussed individual songs” next to it.) If I seem uninspired today, Ponty’s probably not to blame. I’m not a big fan of bop; it all sounds the same to me, and the existence of vexing offspring (hardbop, postbop) makes me feel like I’m on the outside of something important looking in. The music on Sunday Walk probably sounded fresh in 1967, but the moment you say something is “fresh,” it isn’t. (Oddly, this rule also seems to apply to packaged salads and most of your vegetables except for potatoes and the hard squashes.)

Continue reading

Jean-Luc Ponty: Electric Connection (1969)

electric connection album coverJean-Luc Ponty’s new American label, World Pacific Jazz, wasted little time in marketing their jazz violin phenomenon. Ponty was quickly paired with WPJ mainstay Gerald Wilson and his big band for an album of mainstream jazz/swing, Electric Connection. Wilson wrote the arrangements, Ponty provides the solos and a few original compositions, George Duke plays the piano, but the connection never really happens. Most of the time, Ponty’s violin seems out of place in the music or, more to the point, Wilson’s arrangements make space for the violin but rarely make good use of it. The idea of a violin in a jazz setting, especially one so free and fluid, is a novel and exciting concept. In my opinion, it deserved a novel and exciting setting, not a standard set of jazz/swing/funk that might have come from the soundtrack to a second-rate crime film. The rhythm section of Paul Humphrey and Bob West is at least sympathetic; Duke is criminally undermiked. If you’re interested in Ponty’s earliest work, I would start with the live recording at Thee Experience featuring the George Duke Trio. That show was an electric affair which gave the violin plenty of breathing room. On Electric Connection, unfortunately, the violin is something of a caged bird. You’ll encounter some nice solos (“Hypomode Del Sol,” “Forget”) and perhaps develop a deeper appreciation for the violin as a jazz instrument, but nothing on here will change your world. The kindess of critics toward this album is likely due to deference to the violinist himself; the music itself is merely adequate and ill-fitting.

Continue reading

Frank Zappa: Hot Rats (1969)

When the croci in my mind are blooming, then Frank Zappa’s whimsical and colorful genius must be in full flower. I see you in the back of the class, looking out the window while all this wondrous music plays on. Well, wake up! Thirty years on, your grandchildren may quiz you on Frank Zappa and Where were you when it all happened. Do you want to be the doddering old fool who pulls out a picture of the sofa bathed in the blue light of the television and point saying “There?” No you don’t. You want to tune into Hot Rats. The wonderful thing is, there’s still time. Oh, the good seats on the ground floor are already taken, but there’s plenty left in the mezzanine, as good a place as any to witness the miracle of “Peaches En Regalia” or “Son of Mr. Green Genes,” where the composer turns our concept of classical music on its head and gives it a much-needed spanking. Or, if that doesn’t push your button, than surely the sweaty and buck nakedly brilliant blues rock of “Willie The Pimp” and “The Gumbo Variations” must. I’ve spent some two-cent words and a coupla ten-dollar ones trying to sell folks on Frank Zappa’s music, but Hot Rats sells itself. If no other work from Zappa should survive (and somewhere in a conservative cabal sick with the smell of cigars, the possibility is probably being discussed right now), Hot Rats alone would keep the flame alive through the ages. The composition, the arrangements, the musicianship, the sheer entertainment of it all is initially too much to comprehend, but in time it sinks in, and gestates, and first it’s a little blue crocus, and then a white one, and a pink one, and before you know it you’re trading bootlegs with some guy in Holland who says you have to hear this killer version of “Valarie” with an alternate ending (or something like that). Stepping back from myself a bit, I’m sure that jazz/classical hybrids like “Little Umbrellas” could trace themselves back to Duke Ellington or some other modern composer without a trail of bread crumbs, but I don’t listen to a lot of that stuff, so for me Zappa’s the gateway to this new musical world. And, honestly, your grandchildren will probably be asking you stuff like “Ew, how could you have had a crush on Eminem (or Britney Spears)?,” so I wouldn’t worry too much about the Zappa shakedown from future generations. But if they do ask you about Zappa, start putting money away in a trust fund so they can go to Yale and eventually become president. I’d like to hear “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” played at least once at an inaugural ball in my lifetime, and I don’t see any other way to do it.

Continue reading

The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience With The George Duke Trio (1969)

Kronomyth 5.0: ELECTRIC NIGHT. World Pacific Jazz founder Dick Bock had the bright idea to expose Jean-Luc Ponty’s jazz fusion to rock audiences and booked him at the Sunset Strip pyschedelic stop, Thee Experience. Too bad that lightbulb didn’t go off before they made the disappointing Electric Connection. Slimmed down to a quartet of Ponty, George Duke (now on electric piano), John Heard and Dick Berk, The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with The George Duke Trio is an electrifying evening of jazz fusion that served as something of a breakout for both Ponty and Duke. Ponty’s electric violin is both beautiful and grotesque, a creature of the post-Miles fusion forest where noise and art intertwine, yet it’s a new species, interesting to be sure, but not entirely alien. I think it’s this grotesque beauty that captured Frank Zappa’s imagination. As the first effective example of Ponty’s playing in a jazz/rock fusion setting on his own, The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience should be experienced. As an arranger, Duke is far less rigid than Gerald Wilson, and that freedom allows Ponty’s violin to soar. Their versions of Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” and Wolfgang Dauner’s luminescent “Pamukkale” are highlights. Listening to this concert, you get a sense of the excitement that audiences had when they first heard Ponty some fifty years ago (hard to believe, I know). At first, I wasn’t that enamored of this recording, approaching it as I did from the future, but from the perspective of his previous recordings this is a giant step forward. [Note: This concert was re-packaged overseas as Live In Los Angeles. The French version is a sort of hybrid of the two, prominently featuring the word “Experience” on the album cover.]

Continue reading

Jean-Luc Ponty: King Kong (1970)

Kronomyth 6.0: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. This is basically Frank Zappa making an orchestral jazz/rock record on Dick Bock’s dime, with wonderful results. Bock had signed French violin sensation Jean-Luc Ponty to his World Pacific Jazz label but, frankly, didn’t know what to do with him. Frank did. He assembled various Mothers and talented others into an ad hoc, all-star band and gave them some of his most daunting compositions to reinterpret in a jazz fusion and small orchestra setting. The album’s centerpiece is the nearly 20-minute “Music For Electric Violin And Low-Budget Orchestra,” on which Zappa makes his most compelling case yet for consideration as a serious modern classical composer. In fact, King Kong is the first album where Zappa casts himself primarily in the role of composer; he steps into the fray only once, for the lone Ponty original, “How Would You Like To Have A Head Like That.” Ponty, for his part, finally gets some great material to work with, not to mention some great studio musicians including Ernie Watts, John Guerin, Wilton Felder and Vince DeRosa. King Kong also marks the first collaboration between Frank Zappa and George Duke, who would go on to become a permanent fixture in the Mothers. In every way, this is a quantum leap in Ponty recordings; nothing he recorded before this was as revolutionary or mind-expanding. Ponty’s violin also brings a more melodic touch to the material; “Idiot Bastard Son” has never sounded so charming, and the version of “Twenty Small Cigars” recorded here is simply gorgeous (Zappa would revisit this on Chunga’s Revenge). King Kong is a work of musical genius, a high point in the early catalog of Ponty and Zappa. Honestly, there was little in Ponty’s previous work to suggest a convergence of styles between the jazz violin prodigy and the brooding composer, but there’s no denying that the pairing is magic. Dick Bock deserves a lot of credit for bringing the two musicians together and putting artistic ideals over commercial interests; this album is as much a part of his legacy as Zappa’s or Ponty’s.

Continue reading

Jean-Luc Ponty: Upon The Wings of Music (1975)

Jean-Luc Ponty, of late last seen in the employ of Messrs. Zappa and McLaughlin, signed as a solo artist with Atlantic and began releasing his own brand of fusion. Upon The Wings of Music features, in essence, a slightly inverted Mahavishnu lineup: bassist Ralphe Armstrong, drums, keyboards and guitar, with the violin in the role previously held by the guitar. The novelty of hearing the violin in the lead role is augmented by the fact that Ponty runs his (often) electric violin through various effects as a lead guitarist might do. Combined with the fact that Ponty’s arrangements rarely accord much of a role to the electric guitar, the guitar fusion equation inversion is complete. Of course, Upon The Wings of Music isn’t simply a matter of modifying Mahavishnu and Zappa for the violin. There is some of that, yes, but Ponty has a more human vision of fusion: positive, innocent, maybe even a little naïve (in the nicest way). For every fiery passage and tortuous time change are dreamy, sentimental sections. And then there are the unexpected departures, like “Echoes of the Future,” which could have come from Tangerine Dream. By shifting moods and changing the voice of the violin, Ponty keeps this album fresh and interesting. It’s not the technically stunning statement of Al DiMeola’s first album, but how many people were going to drool over a violin solo anyway? What Ponty does here is establish his instrument as a unique (and sustainable) voice in a fusion field where most folks went down either the guitar or horn path. King Kong may have caught everyone’s attention, but it was here that Ponty’s solo career took flight in earnest.

Continue reading

Jean-Luc Ponty: Aurora (1976)

SD 19158 album coverKronomyth 8.0: TOWARD AURORA’S COURT A NYMPH DOTH DWELL, RICH IN ALL BEAUTIES. Aurora sets into motion Ponty’s revolving-door hiring policy with a new set of players featuring guitarist Daryl Stuermer (who was “discovered” by George Duke), bassist Tom Fowler (ex-Zappa) and drummer Norman Fearrington. As one of two albums to feature the brilliant Patrice Rushen on keyboards, this is prime-time Ponty. The violinist wastes little time showing off his new band, roaring out of the gates with the muscular fusion workout, “Is Once Enough?” Ponty then cleverly changes the pace for the warm, Pat Metheny-styled “Renaissance,” featuring Stuermer on acoustic guitar. This leads up to the stunning, two-part “Aurora” and the intoxicating “Passenger of the Dark.” Combining intricate arrangements with instantly gratifying melodies, “Aurora Part I” and “Passenger of the Dark” remain favorites of mine over a long career. “Lost Forest” unfolds beautifully like a Coltrane song, “Between You And Me” mixes midtempo funk with fusion, and Ponty closes the album with the intimate “Waking Dream.” All of Ponty’s Atlantic recordings are more or less variations on the same Mahavishnu-inspired theme, with some variations being better than others. Aurora stands as a shining example of what Ponty has to offer the listener: an impressive balance of musicianship and melody presented in several unique moods. Stuermer and Fowler impress from the first note to the last, while Rushen seems to fade into the background this time and Fearrington has the unenviable task of replacing the irreplaceable Ndugu. Rushen’s reduced imprint on the album is something of a disappointment; maybe it’s the arrangements, maybe it’s the mix, but I couldn’t take my ears off of her on Upon The Wings of Music and I sometimes forget she’s there on Aurora. This record and Imaginary Voyage are my favorites from the Atlantic years, and stand as twin towers in Ponty’s fusion-fueled dreamscape from the Seventies.

Continue reading

Jean-Luc Ponty: Imaginary Voyage (1976)

The prog connection to Ponty has never been stronger than on “Imaginary Voyage,” which lives up to its name as a magical journey of mythic proportions. It has more than a little to do with Zappa, what with a pair of past alums (Ponty, Fowler) and future FZ member Allan Zavod on keyboards, though Ponty generates a warmer, dreamier vibe than Zappa. The first side of music features five shorter songs which showcase the talents of new guitarist Daryl Steurmer (soon to be written into the great book of Genesis). Daryl’s acoustic jazz guitar on “New Country” and “The Gardens of Babylon” is a side of Steurmer that Genesis fans didn’t see, and more what you’d expect from someone who cited Wes Montgomery as an influence. Of course, Jimi Hendrix was another influence, which is evident on his solo for the funktastic “Tarantula.” Ponty shares the spotlight with Steurmer on the first side, Zavod on the second side, and slips in a spacey solo with “Wandering on the Milky Way.” At the moment, I can’t think of another Ponty album I enjoy so much as Imaginary Voyage. The violin becomes a protean voice, as filthy as a funk guitar and as free as a butterfly, classical and country and confoundingly elusive. Behind Ponty is a stellar fusion outfit with prog credibility from once and future members of Frank Zappa, Genesis and Jethro Tull. It’s a proggier, dreamier and more varied work than his first Atlantic album (Upon the Wings of Music), more likely to please fans who found Camel a pleasant ride. With time, the arpeggiated sequencer patterns and formulaic flights of fancy would grow dull, but here it’s all wonder and imagination.

Continue reading

Chick Corea: My Spanish Heart (1976)

Quintessential Corea. My Spanish Heart displays the duality of Chick Corea’s music: the Romantic classicist on one hand, the mad Moogician on the other. Though born in New England, the Latin music of Corea’s home has followed him throughout his career. On My Spanish Heart, we follow Corea as he paints the brilliant nightsky, sheltered gardens, proud hilltops and street festivals of a Spain remembered. Featuring only a handful of carefully chosen collaborators, these songs become a showcase for Corea’s articulate playing garnished with graceful flourishes, a style that draws comparison to past Romantic composers Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin. (Incidentally, I don’t invoke these titans of the tinkling ivory lightly; to my mind, Corea earns their esteemed company on this outing.) Of the songs and cycles featured here, “Armando’s Rhumba” deserves first mention. It is one of the few Corea originals to become a classic in his lifetime. Joined by violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, the pair blend their sympathetic styles into a timeless celebration of sound. Also notable is Corea’s transposing of the flamenco for keyboards, exhibited in “Day Danse” and the opening of the four-part “Spanish Fantasy.” These pieces, and to a large extent the entire effort, are forcibly stamped with a Spanish mood. Not that you wouldn’t find the same themes at work on many Corea albums; the airy vocals of Gayle Moran on “Love Castle” or the intellectual pursuits of “Day Danse” and sections of “Spanish Fantasy” are hybrids that Corea has revisited many times over his career. What separates My Spanish Heart from the horde of also-rans is the consistent twisting of the diamond to illuminate a different and yet related facet of Corea’s Spanish fancy. Throwing the listener in the midst of the party on “Night Streets,” then painting a peaceful scene with Stanley Clarke on “The Hilltops,” keeps the audience attuned to the great variety of sounds that Spain can evoke. And Corea even finds occasion to deflate his own balloon for the humorous grotesques of “El Bozo.” At once refined and passionate, My Spanish Heart gets to the heart of Chick Corea’s appeal like no other album I own from him.

Continue reading

Jean-Luc Ponty: Cosmic Messenger (1978)

cosmic messenger album coverJean-Luc Ponty continues to plumb his pleasant brand of fusion on Cosmic Messenger, keeping at its core the tight, circular patterns found in most of his work from this period. While there are a few tracks that stand out—the mesmerizing title track, the sentimental “I Only Feel Good With You,” the spiritual “Ethereal Mood”—most are indistinguishable from the bulk of his Atlantic output. While Ponty has toned down the violin solos, replacing them with guitar solos from Peter Maunu and Joaquin Lievano in many cases, the decision to keep the rest of the band bound to the same small circumference of music limits their impact. “Egocentric Molecules” does break things open, allowing Ralphe Armstrong and new drummer Casey Scheuerell to flex their muscles. The same can’t be said for “Don’t Let the World Pass You By,” “Fake Paradise” and “The Art of Happiness,” which are based in some cases on nothing more than a couple of notes seesawing back and forth. With the violin and guitars taking the lion’s share of the solos, keyboardist Allan Zavod recedes further into the background, which is something of a shame. Cosmic Messenger is enjoyable and engaging—really, all of Ponty’s albums are to a large extent—but like an animal on a leash it seems unable to stray for any length of time from its established idiom. Whether Cosmic Messenger is deemed consistent or redundant depends on your saturation point for Ponty’s music. Honestly, the tracks represented on the double-disc compilation Le Voyage are probably as much of this message as you need to hear.

Continue reading

Jean-Luc Ponty: Live (1979)

Featuring one selection each from his last four albums, plus the amazing solo showcase of “No Strings Attached,” Live offers a lively summation of Ponty’s recent oeuvre. (As in, “We had a lovely evening, we’ll have to have your oeuvre some time.”) It opens with both ends of Aurora, and lets the early spotlight linger longer on bassist Ralphe Armstrong, who amazes with his outpouring on “Aurora Part II.” In fact, Jean-Luc Ponty proves an equal opportunity employer with solos for everyone save Scheuerell. Ponty’s double-guitar sextet (which now included Jamie Glaser on rhythm guitar) was a short-lived experiment begun with Enigmatic Ocean and ending with his next elpee, A Taste For Passion. Often the keyboards and guitars get swirled together into a single line of communication, punctuated by the rhythm section of Armstrong and Scheuerell. While Ponty’s music doesn’t allow for a ton of improvisation/interpretation, like all jazz it sparkles in a live setting. The record’s highlight is the one-man performance of “No Strings Attached,” which uses digital delays and a sequencer to turn Ponty’s violin into an exotic world of sounds. While it’s atypical of his music, “No Strings Attached” might be the best introduction to Ponty’s muse, as it shows off both the musical possibilities of the electric violin and the imagination of the person playing it. The gang returns for a fiery version of “Egocentric Molecules” (one of the better tracks from Cosmic Messenger) where the strings of Ponty, Lievano and Armstrong just singe the senses. Single-record live albums are usually a tease, but with Jean-Luc Ponty: Live you’re getting the best bits up front. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, don’t be afraid to start here.

Continue reading

Jean-Luc Ponty: A Taste For Passion (1979)

Or how I stopped worrying about being a middle-aged werewolf and learned to love the violin. A Taste For Passion is Jean-Luc Ponty’s most commercial album to date, with warm melodies and accessible arrangements that downplay the electric violin by giving equal time to the electric guitar. In fact, everyone has come up in the mix: the bass, drums and keyboards are no longer obscured by Ponty’s gratuitous solos but instead contribute as equal partners in the music. His earlier albums on Atlantic often utilized complex patterns that were repeated while the violin soared overhead; here that occurs only sparingly. By slowing things down, Ponty puts the emphasis on pretty music. “Stay with Me” sounds like Steve Hackett at his most lyrical, “Beach Girl” utilizes a variety of interesting ideas including a nice acoustic guitar solo from Joaquin Lievano. While a track like “Give Us a Chance” is a throwback to his earlier music, even here Ponty opens up the arrangement to include more space and find time for all of the instruments. The result often feels like “smooth” jazz rather than fusion, but that shouldn’t scare off Ponty’s fans. In fact, they may wonder why he didn’t think of this sooner. One knock on his earlier albums was the violin uber alles aesthetic; by letting his band carry their share of the weight the violin doesn’t lose its freshness. The closing “Farewell” for example balances the violin with Ralphe Armstrong’s fretless bass, and it’s a better song for it. Most of Jean-Luc Ponty’s Atlantic records live or die by his violin solos; A Taste For Passion will win or lose fans for its melodies. All things considered, this is a successful change of pace, even while it sacrifices the violin virtuosity of previous efforts.

Continue reading

Jean-Luc Ponty/Stephane Grappelli: Violin Summit (1979)

The impulsive imp that sits on my shoulder when I go shopping spotted this in a supermarket display for four dollars and squealed, leaping quickly to add Ponty to my bounty. I had yet to be burned by the violinist, so I couldn’t begrudge the impulse purchase. It sat in my modest tape display for months before I finally peeled off the cellophane, dismayed at the enigmatic packaging: no liner notes, no history behind this historic meeting of these two bowed wizards. Fortunately, the music speaks for itself. The fidelity of the Tradition release is compromised a bit, but even so the electricity of the performance wins the day. Here you’ll find fusion in a humble guise, oftimes still clinging to the coatstrings of traditional jazz. Separating the two violinists is best left to a wiser author; I would accord Jean-Luc Ponty the more progressive passages, Stephane Grappelli the more staid moments, but the entire summit appears to be more about both artists leaving their respective comfort zones to explore new worlds together. There is the classic “Bowing-Bowing” and the sultry “Violin Summit No. 2” (featuring electric guitar as a third voice) to consider, and their achievements surpass any discussion of individual accomplishments. If the tape contained nothing else, my four dollars still would have yielded a small treasure. But of course there is more: the traditional jazz of “Golden Green” (where my small mind sees Grappelli as the dominant auteur), the restrained fusion of “Memorial Jam For Stuff Smith” and the intoxicating “Valerie.” I’m listening to the drum solo in the midst of “Violin Summit No. 2” right now, and it’s the kind of unpredictable pleasure that makes an imp worth having. While it’s a different animal than Ponty’s rigid fusion of the Atlantic years, Violin Summit is a sweet reminder of creativity’s natural curiosity: a blossoming prodigy who drank from the rich founts of a wizard’s wisdom, and an established master who revitalized his powers by tapping the superfluous energy that spills from youth. Whether you find it for four or fourteen dollars, Violin Summit is a peak worth resting at, for the vistas are sometimes stunning to behold.

Continue reading

Jean-Luc Ponty: Civilized Evil (1980)

More mildly intoxicating music from the violin virtuoso. Civilized Evil introduces Randy Jackson and Chris Rhyne into the fold, both of whom quickly become assimilated into the organism that is Ponty’s music. The song titles suggest the theme of a world gone wrong, which might lead to avenues of speculation if you’re so inclined. However, this is not program music in the usual sense where the music takes a linear course. Instead, Ponty’s music mostly chases its own tail, beginning with a catchy riff and expounding on it for four or five minutes. In the middle of each you’ll find a violin solo, a guitar solo (Sturmer’s two are more rock-oriented than Lievano’s leads), and an island of exposition that takes the original theme in a new direction only to return again. The Atlantic years represented a refinement of Jean-Luc Ponty’s fusion from sometimes complex epics into self-contained parcels. On subsequent albums, the violinist would explore sequencer patterns as well, the likes of which are achieved here in an analog mixture of guitar and keyboard on “In Case We Survive.” Though the opening “Demagomania” was issued as the single, the standout selection may be the closing “Once A Blue Planet,” the album’s lone acoustic track. It’s a sad song, lovely of habit, and even a little hopeful. The remaining songs are what you’d expect from Ponty at this point, which is something of a disappointment to me. Maybe the deficiency is mine, a too-ready tendency to file all the violin notes into the same folder. Or maybe Ponty really is writing the same song over a hundred times in his head. Whether you view him as consistent or resistant, Ponty’s posies go down easy. Civilized Evil is merely a middle-packer, good but not gregarious enough to stand out in the field. It’s not a bad place to be, shoulder-to-shoulder with works like A Taste For Passion and Cosmic Messenger, but less startling than an Imaginary Voyage or Mystical Adventures.

Continue reading