Live at Chene Park
Atlantic Jazz 82964-2
The latest CD from Jean-Luc Ponty happens to be his first live recording in nearly 20 years, the last being ‘Live!’ which followed his ‘Cosmic Messenger’ LP. This particular concert was recorded in my hometown, at Chene Park in Detroit on June 29, 1996. Having never been to Chene Park, I can’t attest to the venue’s sound quality itself, but if this recording is any indication, it is nothing special. At times the sound is muddy, the bass popping in and out of focus especially.
I don’t know if it was a problem with the stage monitors or just an off night, but the band definitely was not on cue in some spots. Also, the band seems to sound too “separated”–not really meshing, sounding as though they’re each playing in their own little space. Part of it I attribute to the less than stellar acoustics of this recording. The other part I blame on the previous Ponty albums, which always had an unmistakable precision, a precision which raised my expectations high for an album that really doesn’t deliver as I’d thought it would.
Make no mistake, this is a good band that Jean-Luc Ponty took on the road touring with him. The roster includes Jamie Glaser on electric guitar, Chris Rhyne on keyboards, Baron Browne on electric bass, and Michael Barsimanto on drums. The repertoire features nothing older than Ponty’s ‘Fables’ album, making this a modern-day snapshot of the Ponty sound of late.
There aren’t many suprises here. The album opens and closes appropriately with ‘Fables’ “Infinite Pursuit” and “A Journey’s End”. In between are treats like “The Gift of Time”, “Elephants In Love”, “Between Sea and Sky” and “The Amazon Forest”, effectively hitting highlights of his recent discings. The arrangements do not vary from their studio counterparts, mainly opening up the songs for lengthier soloing and adapting some of the synth parts to guitar or bass. Ponty’s spirited electric violin playing is what saves this from being a hasty run-through of album tracks. On some tunes, like “Infinite Pursuit”, he runs of a machine-gun staccato blaze of 16th notes that boggles the imagination.
In summary, it’s a rather average live recording with less than noteworthy sonics. I’d recommend this one for the real diehard Ponty fans only, its saving grace being Ponty’s enthusiastic soloing. That said, I eagerly await his next studio project.
Footnote, April 9, 2007: having visited Chene Park as both an audience member, and a “guest” backstage with a sound crew, I can now safely say that Jean-Luc’s band was likely suffering from the poor acoustics of Chene Park. The venue itself is basically a cement-floored outdoor amphitheater with plastic seating, and a small lawn area. What makes the sonics so nasty is a “clamshell” that covers the stage and the seated audience area. The reverb without guests in attendance has about an 8 second decay, and it is not much better when the audience is full. From the audience, the sound at Chene Park is horrible: there is so much delay and decay, the sounds all sort of stream together into one long, tiring barrage of sound that wears on the ears.
It’s no wonder the band sounded “off” that night: even onstage, I found the sound to be somewhat of a jumble. How they made this album listenable is quite an engineering feat, I’m sure. As an album, and knowing the circumstances, I’d say that is better than I originally gave it credit for, as it has held up well over the years. And having finally seen Ponty in concert twice in the past few years, I can attest to the high quality of his live performances. It’s a shame the band had the venue working against them for this gig.