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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 16, July 12, 1976.

Concert Review: Jean Luc Ponty: Town Hall 5th June

Concert Review: Jean Luc Ponty: Town Hall 5th June.

Wellington got a taste of something special when Jean Luc Ponty with his band performed for the half full audience He came with the Mahavishnu orchestra in '74 but visited only Auckland and Christchurch. The majority of the people who attended had not heard him live.

Jazz music is 'live' music and has to be taken this way. Ponty and his band brought the best of contemporary jazz to a Wellington that has been much neglected in this area.

As a jazz ensemble, they were superb: as soloists, they were magnificent. Ponty was the grand master leading the band. He was relaxed, confident and gave a spectacular display on his multi-coloured violins. He became intimate with his audience within a short time and had them hanging on every sound that he and his equipment, which included sophisticated reverberating amplifiers and a synthesiser, could manufacture. He surely must be one of the greatest musical craftsmen playing today.

Ponty's playing reflected many of the influences that he must have incorporated over recent years. His music is a little 'classical' at times with clever contrasts in key and rhythm while at other times the strong jazz feel of Stephane Grappelli and later, John MacLaughlin, penetrates into it.

The first piece played by the band was "Is Once Enough" - also the first track off"Aurora '. Almost at once, the lead guitarist Darryl Stuermer, soloed with bite and pace. This guy is out to eat John MacLaughlin, and considering his age, probably will.

The band worked through tracks off 'Upon the Wings of Music" and "Aurora" becoming more cohesive and sharp as they went on.

Tom Fowler on bass played with rhythm and skill, allowing the rest of the band to improvise frequently. Fowler himself soloed twice at great speed on his Gibson bass - not heard often at New Zealand concerts.

Aggressive drumming was provided by Mark Claney who achieved a genuine jazz feel, but who occassionally showed too much vigour and volumn. Considering his short time in the band, his work was particularly enjoyable. He shined most in playing duos with Ponty and the others. He is also the first person I have seen playing the bass and the drums concurrently.

Alan Zavod from Australia was a disappointment and really did not seem like part of the band. I was particularly disappointed with not seeing Patrice Rushen who played keyboards on "Aurora" - she stayed in the States to study music and will tour when finished.

For me there were three highlights of a brilliant concert overall. The acoustic section of "Renaissance" and "Question Without an Answer" were delicate and beautiful, especially after several powerful pieces Ponty on acoustic violin and Stuermer playing Spanish guitar were perfect together as well as soloing skillfully.

If one piece sent the audience into raptures (and it did) it was "Fight for Life". This must have been the most incredible cadenza ever played. Ponty started by mimicking a waterfall using a multitude of effects that left the audience wondering if it was indeed a violin he was playing. Soloing for 10 minutes, he shook the foundations with foghorn-like moans, stabbed his victims with daggers of synthesised stacattos and thrilled them with lightning runs.

"Aurora" parts one and two demonstrated the excellence of the band, both combined and individually. Ponty played as a supreme virtuoso using all his incredible skills. He proved conclusively that he was as much a driving force behind the Mahavishnu Orchestra a John MacLaughlin.

Darryl Stuermer played with sting and yet combind well with the rest of the band - bringing a distinctive rock n roll feel to the music.

Ponty gave generous portions of time to the others for improvisation - he simply stood back and gently swayed to their music - violin under arm. His playing cast an aura around him as he fixed his gaze down the strings of this violin. The crowd responded well to his subtleties and musical ad libs.

When he finally went off stage - it was hard to believe the end of the concert had come - but French violinists always come back for an encore. He did, telling the audience "It is wonderful playing music for you" - and launched into a further piece. He was given a standing ovation for his trouble.

The audience were enthralled and exhilarated with the man and his music. Ponty is guaranteed a full house next time around - here's hoping.

- David Murray