[Review] Jean-Luc Ponty: Aurora (1976)

More smooth sailing in the sea of fusion with a re-tooled band that now included a couple of Duke/Zappa associates.

Kronomyth 8.0: Toward Aurora’s court a nymph doth dwell, rich in all beauties.

Aurora sets into motion Jean-Luc 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, Imaginary Voyage and Enigmatic Ocean are my favorites from the Atlantic years, and stand tall among Ponty’s fusion-fueled dreamscapes from the Seventies.

Original LP Version

A1. Is Once Enough? (4:52)
A2. Renaissance (5:45)
A3. Aurora, Part I (2:45)
A4. Aurora, Part II (6:11)
B1. Passenger of the Dark (4:14)
B2. Lost Forest (5:23)
B3. Between You And Me (5:54)
B4. Waking Dream (2:24)

All selections composed and arranged by Jean-Luc Ponty.

The Players

Jean-Luc Ponty (electric violin, violectra, acoustic violin & autoharp), Norman Fearrington (drums & percussion), Tom Fowler (bass guitar), Patrice Rushen (electric piano, acoustic piano & synthesizer), Darryl Stuermer (electric & acoustic guitars). Produced by Jean-Luc Ponty; recording and mixing engineered by Larry Hirsch.

The Pictures

Cover photo by Phil A. Ceccola. Liner photos by Jean-Paul Oren & Jim Marshall.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track on February 26, 1976 in the US (Atlantic, SD/TP 18163), the UK (Atlantic, K-50228), Brazil (Atlantic, 6107 005), Italy (Atlantic, W-50228), Japan (Atlantic, P-10169A) and Germany and the Netherlands (Atlantic, ATL-50228); reached #123 on the US charts and #14 on the US Jazz charts. 8-track features different track order.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1978 in the US (Atlantic, SD 19158).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Atlantic, 19158-2).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1997 in Japan (Atlantic, AMCY-2092).
  4. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 2006 in the US (Wounded Bird, 8163).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc on January 16, 2009 in Japan (Warner, BELLE-81461).
  6. Re-packaged with Upon The Wings of Music, Imaginary Voyage, Enigmatic Ocean and Cosmic Messenger on 5CD set in 2012 in the US (Rhino).

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