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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Electric Connection/King Kong

BGO Records BGOCD 851



1. Summit Soul
2. Hypomode del Sol
3. Scarborough Fair/Canticle
4. The Name of the Game
5. The Loner
6. Waltz for Clara
7. Forget
8. Eighty-One
1. King Kong
2. Idiot Bastard Son
3. Twenty Small Cigars
4. How Would You Like to Have a Head Like That
5. Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra
6. America Drinks and Goes Home

Jean-Luc Ponty - Violin
George Duke - Piano
Wilbert Longmire - Guitar
Bud Shank - Alto sax
Tony Ortega - Flute
Richard Aplan - Baritone sax
Tony Rusch, Larry McGuire, William Peterson, Paul Hubinon - Trumpets
Thurman Green, Frank Strong - Trombones
Mike Wimberley - Bass trombone
Bob West - Bass
Paul Humphrey - Drums
Jean-Luc Ponty - Electric violin, baritone violectra
George Duke  - Piano, electric piano
Gene Estes - Vibes, percussion
Buell Neidlinger, Wilton Felder - Bass
Arthur D. Tripp III, John Guerin - Drums
Ian Underwood - Tenor sax
Ernie Watts - Alto sax, tenor sax
Frank Zappa - Guitar
Donald Christlieb  - Bassoon
Gene Cipriano - Oboe, English horn
Vincent DeRosa - French horn, descant
Arthur Maebe - French horn, tuben
Jonathan Meyer - Flute
Harold Bemko - Cello
Milton Thomas - Viola

The term "jazz-rock" became so unfashionable that it was replaced by "jazz-fusion" or simply "fusion", perhaps in an attempt to give it more respectability. But this pair of reissued albums shows why jazz-rock was not only an important movement in music from the late 1960s but also how jazz and rock musicians could learn much from collaborating with one another.

The first LP reissued here is one of the early recordings from the late sixties which established Jean-Luc Ponty as a significant force in jazz. Trained as a classical violinist, Ponty gradually succumbed to the temptations of jazz - and electrified his violin so that it was audible in jazz and rock contexts. His violin style was almost unlike anything that had been heard before, although his playing had certain resemblances to that of Stuff Smith, who said about Ponty that "He plays on violin like Coltrane does on sax". You can hear the resemblance with John Coltrane throughout Electric Connection, as Ponty slurs his notes and repeatedly returns to an upward or downward swirl which was also one of Coltrane's tendencies. A whole album of Ponty's work also reveals his tendency to repeat some of his favourite phrases. Nonetheless, he wrote and played some attractive tunes, and his violin style is undoubtedly exciting. Gerald Wilson wrote the arrangements, which spotlight Ponty sympathetically.

Summit Soul is archetypal jazz-rock. It was written by Jean-Luc, as was the modal Hypomode del Sol and the bouncy Waltz for Clara. Simon & Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair is also given a likable waltz beat. Dave Grusin's TV theme for The Name of the Game has a bustling feel in seven-four. In Don Sebesky's Forget, Ponty makes his violin weep with emotion, but the closing Eighty-One gives the band a chance to stretch out in jazz-rock mode, including pianist George Duke who gets to solo in a manner which somehow reflects Ponty's playing.

The second album of this two-CD set - King Kong (from 1969) - is rather different, and it shows the advantage of Ponty's classical training. Jean-Luc had found a fellow adventurer in Frank Zappa, the enfant terrible of rock, and he had previously recorded a track for Zappa's album, Hot Rats. Ponty fitted in well with Zappa's eclectic interests, which embraced jazz and modern classical music. In fact the main track on King Kong - ironically entitled Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra (perhaps because producer Dick Bock had refused Frank the 97-piece ensemble he wanted) - is a 19-minute piece which is as close to "serious" music as to jazz. It proves Zappa's seriousness as a composer - a quality sometimes masked by his anarchically humorous behaviour. Frank's two sides are illustrated by the contrast between this track and the final America Drinks and Goes Home - a parody of bar-room honky-tonk music. Yet both pieces have the complexity of so much of Zappa's music, demanding virtuoso players.

In contrast again, the title-track of King Kong is a catchy piece of straightforward jazz which allows Jean-Luc full rein for gyrating improvisation. Incidentally, the violectra which he plays on some of this album is an electric violin one octave below the normal instrument. And Frank Zappa wrote most of the compositions on the album, although Ponty contributed the catchy How Would You Like to Have a Head Like That.

Having not heard much about Ponty in recent years, I wondered if he was still alive - but he is, and still giving concerts to appreciative crowds. It is a pity that many in the jazz fraternity seem to have forgotten the way that he developed the violin as a jazz instrument, building on the legacy of Joe Venuti, Stephane Grappelli, Eddie South and Stuff Smith.

Tony Augarde




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