Saturday, June 24, 2017

9: Jean-Luc Ponty (1977)

Jean-Luc Ponty with Holdsworth fan Frank Zappa
Jump to Musical Analysis:

     Around the time between his departure from Pierre Moerlen's Gong and beginning Bill Bruford's recording project, Allan Holdsworth was invited to record with the jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, who had in years past relocated from France to the United States to work with John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra.  Ponty had already hired guitarist Darryl Stuermer for his band, but a few compositions seemed appropriate for a "Holdsworthian" touch.

Jean-Luc Ponty recalls Allan in a 2017 tribute podcast:
     "I played with Tony (Williams) as a trio in a club in Europe. Later I saw that he had a new album, “Million Dollar Legs” (is that the right title?). Anyways, I got it to hear what Tony was up to and one of the biggest musical shocks was to discover Allan’s playing on it. How lyrical, how emotional, how inventive and totally new! At the time, I had started my own band and I was auditioning guitar players, and all the young players were trying to play like John McLaughlin. And after Allan was discovered, they tried to play like Allan!  But nobody could, really. I was so impressed. So I was writing music for "Enigmatic Ocean" (1977), and as I was writing a couple of pieces which were very lyrical, I was hearing him playing on it. I called him up and he accepted my invitation for him to come to LA to record on my album...

      "I remember I was playing the melody on the violin and hearing him playing the same time. Hearing that guitar sound with my melody on the violin was unreal! I asked him to tour after we released the album, and he came, but he left after a few days - he went back home. I don’t know what he was going through with his family, his wife in England - that’s the kind of guy he was, totally guided by his emotions." 
 Pods and Sods Podcast - Remembering Allan Holdsworth Part 3
Darryl Stuermer also reminisces about this period:
Innerviews: You shared guitar duties with Allan Holdsworth for Ponty’s 1977 "Enigmatic Ocean" and its accompanying tour. What was that experience like? 
"Steppin' Out" Press shot, 1988
Stuermer: "Allan is the most original guitarist I’ve ever seen. When he was given a part to solo on, he would start very slowly and work his way up until he became the Allan Holdsworth we all know. I was just amazed by his technique and playing. I had never seen anyone do what he does before. I had seen guys doing hammer-ons using the right hand, but Allan was doing it with his left hand, too. He’s just a total natural and I don’t know where half of his ideas come from because I had never heard anything like that before. Previously, I had heard Allan on a Tony Williams album called 'Believe It' and was impressed. So when Jean-Luc wanted to have two guitarists trading back and forth, I was happy with that arrangement and it turned out to be an amazing experience. I was always thinking  'Wow, where did that come from?' when Allan soloed. Everything he does is so unique and unconventional. I don’t think the guy can play badly." 
Innerviews: Was it a challenge for you to integrate your guitar style with his? 
Stuermer: "It was, but it also opened up some things for me. I thought 'Oh God, no matter how good you get, there’s always going to be someone like Allan who’s going to show you something you never thought of.' Allan is such an incredible, technical player and it was natural that his influence would seep into my own playing. I think his influence even appears on my 'Go' record. I’m playing more fluidly and adventurously than I’ve ever played before, and I would attribute that to being inspired by Allan." 
(from Innerviews with Darryl Stuermer, 2007, by Anil Prasad)
Allan also had fond memories of this brief collaboration:  
Innerviews: When you played in Ponty’s band, it was one of the rare occasions you shared the stage with another guitarist—in this case, with Daryl Stuermer. What was it like to share the lead guitar role? 
Allan:  "It was alright! We’re radically different, so it never turned into a war. A lot of times when you get two guitarists together it’s like dueling banjos." 
Innerviews: Stuermer told me he would watch you in awe and that it was a tremendous learning experience for him. 
Allan: "I was doing the same thing with him. I really thought Daryl was great. I had seen him play as part of Jean-Luc’s band prior to my joining. It was a lot of fun to work with him. The fact that we’re so dissimilar made it work together quite well." 
(from Innerviews with Allan Holdsworth, 2008, by Anil Prasad)
Musical Analysis
     Allan added several solos to this album but didn't contribute any songwriting.  His playing here seems very assured and comfortable, but he also seems quite ready to move on and do his own thing.  Stuermer's playing makes a very nice contrast, although none of their solos end up being sequenced back to back.  Allan contributes leads to tracks 5, 6, 8 and 11.

Enigmatic Ocean (1977)

Jean-Luc Ponty: electric violin, five-string electric violin, "violectra", bells, grand piano on Nostalgic Lady
Allan Holdsworth: lead electric guitar
Daryl Stuermer: lead and rhythm electric guitar
Allan Zavod: organ, synthesizer, electric piano, grand piano, clavinet
Ralphe Armstrong: electric basses, fretless bass on Nostalgic Lady
Steve Smith: drums and percussion
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
1 Overture 0:47 0:00: Droning cymbals/bass start off falling/rising lines on violin/guitar/keys.
0:27: Head melody over mid-tempo accented groove.
2 The Trans-Love Express

Solos: Ponty, 
Stuermer
3:56 0:00: Up-tempo main riff characterized by accented riffs and scalar violin figures.
0:17: Broad melody line, then return to accented riff.
0:47: Violin solo over two-chord riff groove (with funky rhythm guitar).
1:30: Accented bridge leads to main riff opening and...
2:00: Stuermer's guitar solo over main groove.
2:43: Accented bridge, opening riff reprise.
3:25: Held chord harmony on filtered keys.
3 Mirage

Solos: Ponty, 
Zavod
4:51 0:00: Syncopated keyboard riff (complex triplet feel) joined by wah guitar rhythm and tambourine, percussion.  Drums and bass join groove.
1:02: Violin solo over groove (based on two chord vamp).
2:13: Modulating bridge with heavy guitar line.
2:44: Synth solo over main groove vamp.
3:49: Modulating bridge, opening keyboard-driven texture (drums and bass settle down).
4 Enigmatic Ocean

I
2:20 0:00: Synth and bells begin a majestic fanfare.
0:52: Syncopated, triplet-based descending motif, modulating and joined by heavy accents and drum rolls.
1:31: Guitar joins descending figure as mid-tempo groove establishes.  Harmony modulates upwards.
5 II

Solos: Ponty, 
Stuermer, 
Zavod, 
Holdsworth
3:35      This track marks Allan's first appearance on the album in a tag-team round of solos with all 4 lead instrumentalists.  His style contrasts nicely with the other players, but he doesn't really get enough room here to develop a full statement.

0:00: Energetic accented groove begins on bass and drums, joined by violin and guitar lead melody, ending in accented cadence.
0:38: Somewhat "neo-classical" scalar figure on violins.
0:52: Rising theme on violin and guitar.
1:14: Violin, Darryl's guitar, synth and Allan's lead play consecutive solo fragments, sequence repeating once.
2:50: Opening lead melody reprise, ending in rising cadence accents and brief outro lines from Allan.
6 III

Solos: Holdsworth
Ponty 
3:43      Allan's featured solo here is more notable and features some nice tremolo bar articulation right from the start.  Harmonically, he colors "inside the lines" for the most part.

0:00: Mid-tempo funk groove.
0:18: Allan's guitar solo over two-chord vamp.
1:43: Violin solo.
2:50: Fast accented rhythm with top line in guitar and violin, leading to harmony figure from end of Part I.
7 IV 2:24 0:00: Drum roll kicks off reprise of modulating, syncopated keyboard figure and accents from Part I. 
0:40: Guitar joins descending figure as mid-tempo groove establishes. Harmony modulates upwards.
1:42: Violin and guitar trade melody figures derived from modulating keyboard theme.
8 Nostalgic Lady

Solos: Ponty, 
Holdsworth
5:20      Allan has another beautifully-paced solo on this track (another 2-chord vamp).

This song features Ponty on acoustic piano and Armstrong on fretless bass.
0:00: Falling theme on keys/piano and bass joined by violin/guitars line, developed.
0:35: Mid-tempo syncopated groove with harmony top line A on violin/guitars.
1:09: Violin solo over syncopated groove.
2:26: Harmony melody line variation B of opening theme.
3:00: Allan's guitar solo over vamp.
4:15: Harmony melody line variation B of opening theme, then melody A on violin/guitars.
4:48: Opening falling theme reprise.
9 The Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea

I

Solo: Zavod
3:32 0:00: Relaxed, accented groove A joined by short melodic motifs on guitar and violin.
0:59: Mid-tempo cadence, developed into a galloping groove.
1:34: Rising/falling figures followed by Zavod's synth solo over the galloping groove.
3:06: Rising/falling theme, final chord.
10 II

Solo: Ponty
3:33 0:00: Piano ballad joined by held harmonies, bass accents, harmony line.
0:44: Heavy falling figure leads to violin tremolo texture, keyboard cadenza
1:23: Modulating groove based off preceding keyboard figure. 
1:43: Accented groove A (from Part I) supports violectra solo.
3:17: Guitar joins for final cadence.
11 III

Solos: 
Armstrong, Stuermer, 
Smith, Holdsworth
6:05      Allan gets the final word in the relaxed-yet-virtuosic outro solo here over another 2-chord vamp.

0:00: Uptempo funk groove featuring bass solo.
1:04: Bass adds envelope filter and fuzz to solo sound.
2:26: Stuermer's guitar solo.
3:58: Accents support drum cadenza.
4:13: Rhythmic ensemble cadence leading to harmony lines and rising/falling theme (from Part I) reprise.
4:57: Allan's guitar solo (faded out).


     Years later, after Allan had resettled in California in the early 80s, he added some guitar to Ponty's 1983 album "Individual Choice".  A brief third reunion would occur decades later in 2007's "The Acatama Experience" for one track.  The listings below only include tracks where Allan is heard.

Individual Choice (1983)

Jean-Luc Ponty: Violin
Allan Holdsworth: Guitar
Randy Jackson: Bass
Rayford Griffin: Drums
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
5 Nostalgia

5:00      This is a synth and violin composition created by Ponty with added guitar from Allan Holdsworth.

0:00: Keyboard riff and background chords, joined by lead violin line, harmonized by guitar.
1:15: Guitar solo over modulating variations of main riff.
2:44: Violin solo, sometimes with delay.
4:17: Melody line reprise.
7 In Spite Of All

(Quartet)
5:57 0:00: Mid-tempo groove with clipped guitar chords, leading to theme with falling figures.  Guitar and violin echo figures.
1:13: Guitar solo.
2:37: Chordal accents leading to violin solo.
4:14: Chordal accents with drum ornaments.
4:48: Violin and guitar trade licks.


The Acatama Experience (2007)
Ponty: Violin, keyboards, synthesizer, effects
Holdsworth: Guitar
William Lecomte: Piano, keyboards
Guy N'Sangue: Bass guitar
Thierry Arpino: Drums
Taffa Cissé: Percussion
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
4 Point of No Return 6:45      JLP considers this his favorite solo contribution from Allan, and it's not hard to see why.

0:00: Piano-driven opening theme, joined by violin top line, then harmonized, ending in accented cadence with violin ornaments.
1:16: Violin solo over modulating harmony, ending in accented cadence, reprise of opening structure.
3:13: Allan's (mature) guitar solo over a two chord vamp.
4:38: Opening theme in a thicker orchestration.
5:01: Violin and guitar trade solo fragments.
5:35: Accented cadence, reprise of opening structure, coda.

Next: Bruford
Previous Chapter: John Stevens and Spontaneous Music

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The numbers in parentheses after Allan's quotes above refer to sources listed in the Bibliography
For more detailed information on this chapter, see the Annotated Chronology.

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