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Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty: Live at Yoshi's

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Album Review

Mads Tolling caught the attention of jazz violin fans for his work as a member of the wide-ranging Turtle Island String Quartet, which he left in early 2012. One of his inspirations has long been violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, who started playing bop, moved into fusion and rock, delved into world music and more. Joined by electric guitarist Mike Abraham, electric bassist George Ban-Weiss, and drummer Eric Garland, Tolling pays tribute to Ponty with a powerful set from a single evening at Yoshi's in Oakland. Opening with pieces that he recorded with John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra ("Life's Dance") and as part of the all-star trio Rite of Strings with Stanley Clarke and Al Dimeola ("Song for John"), the violinist immediately signals that his salute will cover a lot of ground, including unexpected tunes. Tolling follows them with a subtle take of Nat Adderley's melancholy bop vehicle "Old Country," where the quartet interacts rather than merely accompanies the leader. Tolling has more surprises in store with his creative medley that blends snippets of Ponty's well-known '70s compositions "The Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea," "Enigmatic Ocean," and "Bowing-Bowing," with a driving take of Frank Zappa's furious rock gem "King Kong."

Tolling initially modifies Ponty's bluegrass-flavored "New Country" into a funky setting before resorting to the original tempo, though the combination of guitar and violin at one point makes it sound like an accordion is present. The violinist's haunting take of Sam Rivers' "Beatrice" sounds like a Celtic-flavored dirge in his introduction, though it quickly becomes a showpiece for his formidable technique. Tolling's finale is "Pontyfication," a stunning original that incorporates many of Ponty's stylistic interests into a single piece. There's never a moment that the listener feels that Mads Tolling is merely rehashing Jean-Luc Ponty's recordings, the added challenge of the leader's omission of keyboards and recording everything live in front of an audience in a single night are ample proof of the musicianship of this talented young violinist.

Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty: Live at Yoshi's, Mads Tolling Quartet
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