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.

Original LP Version
A1. Bowing-Bowing (6:28)
A2. Golden Green (4:42)
A3. Memorial Jam For Stuff Smith (6:54)
B1. Violin Summit No. 2 (9:56)
B2. Valerie (7:00)

All music composed and arranged by Jean-Luc Ponty.

The Players
Stephane Grappelli (violin and baritone violin), Jean-Luc Ponty (violin and baritone violin) with Philippe Catherine (guitar on B1/B2), Andre Ceccarelli (drums on B2), Maurice Vander (piano on A2/A3).

The Plastic
Released on elpee in 1979 in the US (Everest, FS 355).

  1. Re-issued on cassette in the US (Tradition, 2207).

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