Monthly Archives: May 1998

Jean-Luc Ponty: “Live at Chene Park”

Jean-Luc Ponty
Live at Chene Park

Atlantic Jazz 82964-2
1996Rating: * * * 1/2

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.

Mark Ledford: “Miles 2 Go”

Mark Ledford
Miles 2 Go

Verve Forecast 3145373192
1998   Time: 61:02Musicians: Mark Ledford (vocals, trumpet, guitar, keyboards), others.

Rating: * * * *

Miles 2 Go is a collage of musical styles and textures that appeal to many listeners at one time. It is obviously a tribute to Miles Davis, in its own unique way, and it presents the versatile Mark Ledford in a variety of settings that are uniquely his own.

Some may recognize Leford’s name from his recording and touring activities with the Pat Metheny Group. But he actually started out in Detroit playing violin and singing soul music. He attended Berkelee in Boston, where his classmates were a virtual who’s who of young lions: Branford Marsalis, Kevin Eubanks, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Marvin “Smitty” Smith, among others. Along the way to this solo project, he’s also worked with Eliane Elias, Stephanie Mills, Living Colour, the Brecker Brothers, and Mary J. Blige. He also performs with Bobby McFerrin’s a cappella vocal group Circle.

The disc starts out with “Way I Feel,” one track that I did not particularly care for. But once he gets away from the more pedestrian tunes, and hits the first Miles track, things improve measureably. “So What/Impressions” is a slow electrofunkified version of the classic Kind Of Blue track. One highlight is the track “Walkin (Miles 2 Go)”, which is a mixture of the jazz song “Walkin'” with more than a few licks from “Milestones”, all sung in scat at a breakneck pace. Gershwin’s “Summertime” is a rather disjointed “minimalist” track (which surprisingly works in its favor), helped along with some subdued licks from Pat Metheny. Some tracks like the odd version of “Blue In Green” don’t quite work, but that’s redeemed by a slow but playful “Bye Bye Blackbird” and a neat scat vocal version of “Freedom Jazz Dance” (a la Jon Hendricks).

A potpourri of styles, but quite unique and fresh. Far better than what many of his contemporaries are recording these days. We’ll here more from Ledford!

Various Artists: “A Twist of Jobim”

Various Artists
A Twist of Jobim

1997Musicians: Lee Ritenour, Yellowjackets, El DeBarge, Al Jarreau, Oleta Adams, Eric Marienthal, Ernie Watts, Herbie Hancock, Dave Grusin, and others.

Rating: * * * *

I’ll warn you right off the bat that this is a contemporary take on the great works of Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. This project is the result of the Carnegie Hall tribute to Jobim shortly after he passed away. GRP had recorded the proceedings, but multiple legal and contractual hurdles have just about ensured that we’ll never hear that recording.

Undeterred, Lee Ritenour assembled a cast of all-star musicians and recorded this ‘Twist of Jobim’ project on his newly-formed record label, a unit of Polygram. His influence is evident throughout. Ritenour appears on most of the tracks. If you’re curious about what this sounds like, think of some of the recent Ritenour albums like ‘Portrait’, ‘Festival’ and ‘Color Rit’. Joining Ritenour on various tracks are Al Jarreau and Oleta Adams, Eric Marienthal, Ernie Watts, Yellowjackets, Herbie Hancock, El DeBarge and Dave Grusin, among others.

Overall, I really like this project. It brings together some of my favorite artists playing the music of one of my favorite composers. IMO, it comes off very well in the execution. Jarreau and Adams are paired on “Waters of March” and “Girl from Ipanema” to good effect, the latter featuring a sample of Joao Gilberto’s original version from the classic ‘Getz/Gilberto’ and the piano of Russell Ferrante. Russ is featured with Yellowjackets on one of my favorite Jobim tracks, “Mojave”.

An unusual track is “Dindi”, sung by none other than soul/R&B singer El DeBarge. It works, but only marginally so. DeBarge doesn’t quite have the delivery of a classic jazz singer, and to me the tired hip-hop-styled beat just doesn’t fit. It’s not bad, just not all that original. It has “Top 40” intensions written all over it.

Dyed-in-the-wool Jobim fans will likely appreciate any chance to hear their favorite composer’s works in a new light. This album delivers! And given its genre-crossing styles of jazz, funk and pop, it could be a moderate crossover success.