Music News & Reviews

CRITIC'S PICKS: The best of Jean-Luc Ponty

Here are Walter Tunis' picks for 10 albums spanning 40 years that detail the emotive depth, stylistic invention and sheer fun that make up the music of Jean-Luc Ponty.

Sunday Walk (1967): Although not officially his debut recording, this expressive quartet session was widely viewed as Ponty's international introduction. The band included pianist Wolfgang Dauner, who still performs duo concerts with Ponty.

King Kong (1969): A wonderfully animated record devoted almost exclusively to the compositions of Frank Zappa. It shifts from the wistful quartet reading of Idiot Bastard Son to the 20-minute Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra.

New Violin Summit (1971): A long out-of-print concert recording that lands Ponty squarely in fusion territory. Having Dauner, guitarist Terje Rypdal and prog-rock giant Robert Wyatt on drums as a rhythm section enhances the electric spirit.

Visions of the Emerald Beyond (1975): The final Mahavishnu Orchestra collaboration featuring Ponty and guitarist John McLaughlin. Hearing the two musically butt heads on Eternity's Breath, Part 2 remains a beautifully fearsome experience.

Imaginary Voyage (1976): A watershed fusion recording, Imaginary Voyage sported expansive compositions (the four-part title tune), a solo violin work drenched in echo effects (Wandering on the Milky Way) and even a bluegrass-bop hit (New Country).

Cosmic Messenger (1978): Arguably the finest and most popular of Ponty's Atlantic albums, Cosmic Messenger was a tighter but denser exercise, with layers of keyboards and guitars augmenting Ponty's increasingly otherworldly violin sound.

Individual Choice (1983): The first of two largely unaccompanied albums in which Ponty created compositions dominated as much by synthesizers as by violin. Among the few guests: bass guitarist and future American Idol judge Randy Jackson.

Tchokola (1991): A career-changing album that unplugged Ponty from computers and sequencers in favor of grooves from Senegal, Cameroon and Nigeria. The album's heavily West African cast continues to be reflected in Ponty's live performances.

The Rite of Strings (1995): A summit featuring three of fusion music's foremost celebs (Ponty, bassist Stanley Clarke and guitarist Al DiMeola) playing in an entirely acoustic setting. A 1975 Ponty fusion classic, Renaissance, become a perfect fit for the sessions.

The Acatama Experience (2007): While guitar pals Allan Holdsworth and Philip Catherine make cameos, Acatama de-emphasizes guitar and electric playing for a gentler but no less absorbing sound. The unplugged solo piece Desert Crossing is a mind-blower.

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