Legendary drummer Kenny Clarke compared Jean-Luc Ponty to Dizzy Gillespie. Fellow violinist Stuff Smith marveled, “He plays violin like Coltrane plays saxophone.” Born in 1942, the French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty transported jazz violin playing into the world of modern jazz. On Frank Zappa’s urging, Ponty moved to the States in 1970. Over the next years he toured with Zappa, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Chick Corea’s “Return to Forever”.
If Ponty’s 1983 album Individual Choice was the sketchbook of his decision to take his music in a new direction, Open Mind (1984), released the following year, was a deeper exploration of the emerging world of synthesizers and sequencers and their impact on live and studio performance. Here, complex rhythmic patterns shift in the background while new sounds appear and disappear on the surface in colorful bursts, and outstanding jazz improvisors create familiar music in new settings. It’s almost an audio version of a kinetic wind sculpture.
Ponty chose to use a Roland rhythm machine instead of faking real drum and percussion sounds and played all the keyboard parts himself in order to further explore the concept he had introduced in Individual Choice. He additionally asked two longtime friends to solo on various tracks: George Benson, whom JLP had met and played with when they were both 21 years old, and Chick Corea, who excels on two tracks with his Moog synthesizer.
“George is for me one of the greatest jazz guitarists in the world,” Ponty said, “and he proves it with his amazingly creative solo on Modern Times Blues.” The same is true for Ponty, who manages to explore the “robotic” while at the same time on this album in particular, revealing honest emotional beauty in his improvisation and compositions. While it is Chick on the opening track “Open Mind,” and “Watching Birds,” it’s Ponty playing piano with confidence and grace on “Solitude.”