Jean-Luc Ponty is an artist who probably most represents my adult focus on jazz fusion/funk. A virtuosic violinist from Avranches,France Ponty was born into a family of classically trained musicians. While graduating fairly young from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris with their highest honor,he began listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane while playing with one of the countries major symphony orchestra’s Concerts Lamoureux. Ponty became known by the end of the 60’s as being a premier example of “jazz fiddle”.
The jazz community at the time had similar doubts as to the violin’s viability in jazz as they had when Rufus Harley introduced bagpipe into the genre. But with his mixture of be-bop phrasings and European classical movements,Ponty became part of the link between jazz fusion and what would become the new age music genre. He released his first solo album at the age of 22 in 1964’s Jazz Long Playing. He played with key members of the modern jazz movement until Frank Zappa wrote songs for his 1969 album King Kong. He emigrated with his family to America when asked to join Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention.
Ponty participated in the first two Mahavishnu Orchestra albums in the early 70’s as well,before restarting his solo career in 1975. By the early 80’s,he’d toured the world and recorded more than a handful of premier jazz/rock fusion albums. In 1983 he released his 15th studio album Individual Choice. The title song was given one of the first jazz music videos. He also re-ignited his collaboration with the late George Duke. He and Duke recorded a collaborative album together in 1969. And he was the chief composer of my favorite song on Ponty’s 1983 release entitled “In Spiritual Love”.
The main body of this song entirely surrounds the rhythm. Its a funky R&B shuffle done up on a brittle drum machine-surrounded by multiple synthesizer parts. One is a jangling guitar like one,the other is a bluesy bass line while a low and high orchestral one accent both. The melody begins with Ponty plucking the main melody,than playing the last part out on his violin. The song also contains two separate instrumental solos. The first is a classic Minimoog solo from George Duke. The second one is is a full violin solo from Ponty before the song fades back out on its main theme.
Over the last decade or more,I’ve heard most of Jean-Luc Ponty’s 70’s and 80’s studio albums. And enjoyed them strongly based on their album oriented context and impeccable playing. Yet of all the individual songs he’s done,”In Spiritual Love” is one of a handful that stand out strong on its own. The solos are strongly based on Ponty and Duke’s keen understanding of harmonic virtuosity and an inviting sense of melody. But the rhythmic base of the entire song is,outside its electronic presentation,a very funky rhythm & blues shuffle. So this really puts Ponty’s entire musical focus into excellent perspective.