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The Acatama Experience

Jean-Luc Ponty

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Album Review

Jean-Luc Ponty has dabbled in commercialized music off the beaten path of jazz for quite a number of years, a dilution of the straight-ahead and fusion-oriented music that made him an instantly recognized post-Stéphane Grappelli performer. The Acatama Experience is apparently a good one for Ponty, as his "new" style harks back to his emergence in the mid-'70s. It's a back-to-basics approach, paring down the histrionics and processed electric violin to a merely amplified, natural approach. Ponty has also surrounded himself with two excellent players in keyboardist William Lecomte and drummer Thierry Arpino, and on three tracks an old friend, the Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine. The band gets things rolling with a contemporary, funky, yet very respectful version of Bud Powell's "Parisian Thoroughfare," with other variations away from the core sound including an eighth note-centered "Celtic Steps" replete with danceable fiddlistics, the portable road song "Still in Love," and the title cut — an unusual, understated, spacy, ambient, overdubbed solo for Ponty on various instruments. The retro tracks are contemporary in nature, but reminiscent of his days with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. "Premonition," with help from Catherine, is a natural circular stairstep two-note climb with a booming electric bass guitar line from Guy Nsangué Akwa, while the waltz "Last Memories of Her" has the same basic ascendant quality with Lecomte's melancholy piano signifying the end of a beautiful friendship. Another standout track, "Euphoria" is couched in a bright, happy 6/8 Latin base, made luminous by the vibraphone playing of Taffa Cissé. Considering Ponty's most recent work, rife with world or Afrocentric mishmashes or even further back mired in dense, overwashed electronic synth muck, this recording is not only a welcome change of pace, but a return to the great music that made Ponty an important figure in contemporary music. This one is recommended with no hesitation, and is the brilliant violinist's best effort in nearly 30 years. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi


Born: 29 September 1942 in Avranches, France

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

It has been a long, fascinating odyssey for Jean-Luc Ponty, who started out as a straight jazz violinist only to become a pioneer of the electric violin in jazz-rock in the '70s and an inspired manipulator of sequencers and synthesizers in the '80s. At first merely amplifying his violin in order to be heard, he switched over to electric violin and augmented it with devices that were associated with electric guitarists and keyboardists, like Echoplex machines, distortion boxes, phase shifters, and...
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