in performance: jean-luc ponty

jean-luc ponty.

jean-luc ponty.

It was easy last night at the Singletary Center for the Arts to overlook the technical and instinctual command within Jean-Luc Ponty’s musicianship when compositions were presented as such accessible, melodic delicacies.

But there instances – several of them, in fact – where the landmark French violinist briefly climbed on board the ostinato express to dish out a few dizzying runs on the strings. That at least reminded the audience of exactly the sort of unassuming musical force it was dealing with.

When compared to the mighty fusion music Ponty was known for the late ‘70s and ‘80s, the performance seemed almost delicate. There were no synthesizers and sequencers, just a grand piano and Kurtsweil keyboard at the hands of longtime Ponty bandmate William Lecomte. There were no MIDI systems or echo effects to alter the violin’s natural voice and, as has been the case with Ponty’s bands for the past decade, no guitars.

So with the extra weight gone, the 1 ¾ hour performance flew by with an often effortless lyrical grace. Older, more anthemic and sometimes darker works like Cosmic Messenger, The Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea and especially the show opening Demagomania bore unexpectedly warm but still highly electric casts while newer pieces like On My Way To Bombay and the encore selection To and Fro revealed a pop friendly bounce.

Even tunes that called for the most musical might often sounded playful at the core, as in a medley that matched the 2007 composition Celtic Steps with the 1982 piece it was adapted from, Jig. Here, Ponty’s playing was suitably spry but also open enough to give bassist Baron Browne room to beef up the folky groove.

As fun as all this electricity was, the performance’s highlights came when Ponty largely cut himself loose from amplification. With Lecomte on piano, the violinist performed an almost shy sounding ballad called Last Memories of Her that possessed chamber style finesse.

But the killer was the unaccompanied violin melody of 1983’s Nostalgia and 2007’s Desert Crossing. The former, a tune first recorded with a massively computerized keyboard arrangement, revealed attractive ostinatos in this solo acoustic setting that shot into warp speed on the latter work. From a technical standpoint, this was a stunner – a medley with a temperament that seemed ready to implode before Ponty brought the whole daredevil act to a conclusion with a brief swing flourish.

The bluegrass flavored New Country – a signature tune for Ponty, although he seldom plays it anymore – was served as a finale. Maybe the lure of playing bluegrass fusion in the Bluegrass (this was, after all, Ponty’s Lexington debut) explained why he dusted off the song. No matter. It was a suitable coda for a program that nicely balanced instrumental muscle, stylistic cunning and a simple sense of musical good spirits.

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