Sunday, 27 September 2015

Anderson Ponty Band - Les affinit├ęs ne sont plus un mirage

Malcolm Birkett September 2014.
“I have to go to Aspen, this maybe my last chance to see Jon”

Jean Luc Ponty August 2014
“…. and will film our very first concert in Aspen. This way people can find out what to expect when we tour in 2015. It’s better than trying to explain with words”. 

Jon Anderson August 2014
”It’s going to be a live show, because that’s who we are. We’re a live band. Right away, we said, “I don’t want to go into the studio and make an album. I want to do a live show.” It’ll be a two-hour live CD/DVD. It’s what we are. We’re not trying to make a hit album. We want to make a damn good live show, and that will transform itself into a video and sound experience”

So with Jean Luc’s and Jon’s remarks ringing in my ears it seemed only right to experience the DVD first as it would explain what we can expect in the coming touring cycle better than any words would do. It also helped to have read  Sean McKee’s sober assessment of the challenges of producing the material shot at Aspen.

Jon spoke extensively about how he designed the show into sequences of approximately 15 minutes, which would blend their heritage and showcase some new ideas where the sum would be greater than its parts.

After the exciting intro which quotes from both principals work the first cycle begins with “One in the Rhythms of Hope”, a jaunty staccato piece where the logic of these two idiosyncratic performers coming together is immediately apparent. Counter Tenor and classically trained Violinist backed by a highly intelligent "top of their game" band. Cleverly the staccato motif is slowed down and provides the backdrop as we move into a new composition written by Enrico Tomat, a mood composer, who provides a soft soundscape, which Jon and then Jean Luc ascend out of reaching beyond the lush backdrop. In concert this section was completed by the refrain from “Yours Is No Disgrace” but instead the third piece up is a swift change of pace and a version of “Owner of a Lonely Heart” which swings thanks to the crisp pertinent “Bruford like” drumming of Rayford Griffin. Indeed I am reminded of Bruford’s crisp incisive playing more than once listening to this CD. Rayfords playing provides Jon with the kind of Jazz Swing and empathetic playing and support that seems to come more naturally from a Jazz background than Rock, he is crucial to the feel and atmosphere of the music. Wally Minko re energizes the harmonics of the piece and Jean Luc swaggers all over the solo section.

So 15 minutes in and the calling card is laid out and now we can relax as the band really gets into its stride and we enter a four song section of wonderful grooves out of which emerges beautiful rhapsodic playing, gorgeous flights of fancy in a riveting dream like manner. “Listening” with its vibes sounding keyboard intro gives way to one of three superb vocalizations before a sublime solo from Jean Luc with Jon switching to gentle ripples on the harp. This cool jazz groove gives way to a different type of groove the reggae version of “Time and A Word” which now makes sense in a full-blown band context. This piece shows what clever musicians the Atlantic Years Band are as they offer an authentic and authoritative reading and like “Listening” you wish this piece would never end the playing is such a joy. In concert JIG with its roots in Amharic music cleverly followed the reggae piece but we now move into another double song section. It begins with the sophisticated jazz of “Mirage” with a particularly comfortable insert from JA. It picks up on the same vibe as “Listening”, before seguing into the next groove the calypso inspired piece, which has been a staple on Sound Cloud for a year now. “Soul Eternal”. That early Sound Cloud version from Azigza shows just how much these players can add to a piece it really is lifted beyond its original groove by the additional dynamism of the playing as it moves to a crescendo with great Violin and Guitar trading between Jean and Jamie.

These four pieces are the core of the DVD sublime effortless music full of atmosphere, hidden depths and great playing. The DVD program now switches to a more reflective mood, an after hours smoky “Smooth Jazz” rendition of “Wondrous Stories” and the magical beauty of “Renaissance Of the Sun”. These two pieces bring out on the latter Jon’s most empathetic reading and on the former the most uncertain. The tone and cadence of JA’s voice on WS works well particularly as he clearly has an older voice these days but his syncopation and phrasing does not move far enough away from the 77 version, so you have a sense that whereas Wally and Jamie are nailing it Jon has not travelled the full distance toward the reimagined spirit of the piece. In the hands of Diana Krall or Holly Cole even Streisand they would bend the phrasing much more whereas Jon’s performance is in limbo. What definitely breaks the mood is the wordless quotes from “Your Move” a wrong one. But Renaissance is the highlight of the DVD serene beautiful music making, more harp from Jon, and beautiful elegant music making from the leads Wally and Jean Luc. 

The formal part of the concert DVD over Baron returns for a neat and clever Bass Solo that leads into a perfectly respectable but unsurprising re arrangement of Roundabout. The hour over and the credits play out over a roaring version of Egocentric Molecules entitled (Re Remembering Molecules) a perfectly fitting way to provide a balance of the two heritages.

They set out to offer a calling card to a touring cycle now a year later it is here - Mission accomplished.

Post Script

Malcolm once said to me if you cannot think of anything good to say about a piece of music or a concert then I believe people should stay quiet. As I have dedicated this review to his memory I will hold to this thought and simply say for me the DVD works perfectly but the CD, which loses some music and gains other pieces, covers ground on which I will “Stay Quiet”