Review Summary: Since Ponty, the jazz violin has been a different instrument.
2 of 2 thought this review was well written
Jean-Luc Ponty is a classically-trained multi-instrumentalist who soon branched out in the jazz fusion realm. He became an innovative, versatile electronic violinist, and led a prolific solo career. A skilful musician and natural composer, he is above all an important pioneer in the jazz fusion movement. He gained his notoriety in the music industry from his various stints in Mahavishnu Orchestra, on their albums Apocalypse and Visions of the Emerald Beyond, as well as with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, playing violin on records such as Hot Rats, Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe. While these albums bear no resemblance to Ponty’s solo work, they certainly helped pave the way for the type of music he was about to create.
Apparently these experience in fusion suited his taste, because after leaving Mahavishnu Orchestra, he started creating his own fusion-based albums, and he’s always managed to surround himself with very talented musicians. The commonly named ‘Jean-Luc Ponty and his Band’ started it all with album Upon the Wings of Music which had an obvious tendency toward jazz fusion, and while remaining true to Ponty’s musical background, got a more controlled framework than the harsh, 'shred fest' style of Mahavishnu Orchestra. His next album, Aurora, was where he really started to define his trademark sound. For his three following albums, he leaned definitely more toward progressive rock than jazz, and he then reached the peak of his career. In effect, Ponty left us a series of extremely original and explorative jazz fusion albums, appealing to all prog lovers. These three representative masterpieces firmly established him as a figurehead in America's growing jazz-rock movement: Imaginary Voyage, Enigmatic Ocean and Cosmic Messenger.
In those days, his music was a well-balanced combination of sounds that definitely provided the jazz fusion elements, but also had that overall progressive feel to it, with epic multi-parts compositions, varying, complex time signatures, shifting atmospheres and electronic instrumentation. Dominated by Ponty’s melodic, punctuated violin, ranging from smooth passages and energetic, powerful parts, and filled of technical prowess and countless solos, the band combined the perfect blend between spontaneous improvisations and concise orchestration. The interplay between the musicians is spectacular. The pieces all interweave violin, guitar and synthesizers exquisitely to form a melodic, harmonious whole. While Ponty tends to create music that revolves around his virtuosity, he always gives room to many other soloists. His music is based on a solid, miraculous rhythm section which always brings interesting yet intricate grooves, and also greatly supports the violin. Bass and fiddle complement each other in melodies performances. Chris Rhyne’s (Santana) piano is exuberant and stylish. Ponty's violin solos swirl into controlled pandemonium while bassist Randy Jackson and drummer Rayford Griffin enhance Ponty's solo with complimentary rhythms.
Mystical Adventures marks the end of the adventurous era of Jean-Luc Ponty. It was a shame that he reinvented his style somewhat after the album, just when he was getting building his classic style to perfection. It’s the very last album that contains suites, and the five-part title track is heavenly, and arguably one of the finest 20 minutes in prog history. After this release, Ponty found himself revising his positions, and was ready for a major change, apparently to avoid doing the same stuff over and over again, and also to modernise his sound. That gave somewhat interesting results, considering the dozen of albums which reached the top 5 on the Billboard Jazz charts and the impressive amounts of copies sold. The result was overall somewhat less consistent than what he achieved during his classic years, but he still managed to create heartfelt music which contains ethereal moods, a la Pat Metheny, flirting more and more with a kind of hybrid between fusion and New Age. Ponty managed to add just enough improvisations, clever arrangements and compositional skills to keep it interesting. Producing music that is incredibly high energy, but yet soothingly melodic is his trademark. The tempos and moods of his music move along gracefully in that perfect blend of electric jazz, funky, classical and rock, in a manner that only he can achieve.
Jazz, fusion or not, may quickly become merely ‘background music’ if we are not attentive to it. But the quality of Ponty’s music inevitably leads to an attentive listen. Critics said that Jean-Luc Ponty was the first jazz violonist to be as exciting as a saxophonist. Listen to Mystical Adventures to be convinced.
@Nagrarok, my close collaborator in ProgJect: Both jazz fusion reviews that we've just done have more connections with progressive rock than they have with jazz fusion. We need to do some more reviews to get back to our 100% progressive rock' pie chart haha. Thank you for your effective and usual enhancing, trimming and correcting on the review, mon cher collègue.
@vanderb0b: You're right, bro. Probably for the sake of making myself understood well, I tend to add repetitive and/or unnecessary details, and this habit goes against my efforts to be more concise in my writings. Thank you to point it out. Since the very first ProgJect' review I work hard to improve this, isn't it, Nag.
Man, that makes me really happy! Finally, it's me who introduced you to something good, for a change. Band/Album is A to Z amazing, just like both Imaginary Voyage, Enigmatic Oceans and Cosmic Messenger.
I can see where you're coming from. It was meant to look like a 'standard' review at first, but I couldn't help to add some more informations here or there, wich is obviously not the good way to make a concise, to-the-point review like you guys cleverly do. Thanks for your constructive comments, Irving.
Thanks for your kind words, Irving. Not sure about your last phrase though :D
@Eved: Thanks a bunch, buddy. This and Cosmic Messenger are my personal favourites. Enigmatic Ocean and Imaginary Voyage are essential stuff too. So yeah, you definitely should give Mystical Adventures a try. Start with the link I gave above.