The singing violin

PURE BLISS Ponty took off into heavenly solo improvisations

PURE BLISS Ponty took off into heavenly solo improvisations   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: R. RAGU

Ponty seemed to have put all the electronic gimmickry of the past firmly behind him as he gave his audience a pure violin sound

I must confess that I went to hear the Jean-Luc Ponty quintet performing at Ambedkar Bhavan on February 10 with some trepidation. From a glimpse of his recorded work in the 1960s, including one album in a quartet of violinists, I only associate him with good jazz, but I knew that he had gone off into jazz-rock fusion in the '70s and '80s, including the use of synthesisers and other electronic gadgetry with his electric violin. And although I wouldn't dismiss jazz-rock as not being good jazz, it's a bit beyond my own taste, fairly wide-ranging though that is.In the event I was in for a pleasant surprise. (For the record I must say that many of my favourite jazz musicians who wandered into jazz-rock seem to have systematically eschewed it more recently, although I wouldn't go so far as to announce, not to say celebrate, the demise of jazz-rock.) Ponty on electric violin, William Lecomte on digital keyboards, Guy Nsangué-Akwa on electric bass guitar, Thierry Arpino on drums, and Moustapha Cissé on percussion, came up with a concert that was pure jazz - with a touch of West African music (but West Africa is where the ancestors of the people who invented jazz were shanghaied from). Not only pure jazz, but pure bliss.The fact that three of the instruments were electric can be put down to the fact that two of them are more portable (electric bass guitar vs. upright acoustic bass, keyboards vs. piano) and the third, the electric violin, allows for considerable amplification. Lecomte's sound, in particular, was hardly distinguishable from a grand piano's. And Ponty seemed to have put all the electronic gimmickry of the past firmly behind him as he gave us a pure violin sound ranging over the entire gamut of his instrument, which starts lower than others of its kind thanks to the fifth string he has added to it.The quintet played 11 pieces, and the others rested while Ponty played a solo number, which, like the last two pieces, remained unnamed. The others were, in order: "Imaginary Voyage" merging into "Infinite Pursuit"; "Enigma of Life"; "2001 Years Ago"; "Signals from Planet Earth"; "Firmament"; "Enigmatic Ocean", all before the solo violin piece; "Elephants in Love"; "No Absolute Time" and "Mouna Bowa". The last-named was a West African piece composed by Nsangué-Akwa. Almost all were fast-paced, frequently based on riffs or short repeated phrases, which is a favourite device of Ponty's. Ponty took off into solo improvisations on all, Lecomte did likewise on most, while Nsangué-Akwa also took a few - and did so delectably. Ponty often plucked the strings instead of bowing them as a sort of timekeeping device. There were also occasional exchanges of brief solo passages between Ponty and Nsangué-Akwa.On one number, Arpino took a dazzling drum solo while on another he and Cissé played a percussion duet while the melody instrumentalists took a respite. Cissé's kit was a mix of the conventional jazz drum kit with the Latin American congas and the West African bata drums. He managed to keep his sound distinct from Arpino's by using his hands not only on the batas and congas but also from time to time on the jazz drums. This was a concert that swung, and Ponty's violin sang through.JAZZEBEL

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