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Jean-Luc Ponty - A Taste for Passion CD (album) cover

A TASTE FOR PASSION

Jean-Luc Ponty

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.74 | 38 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Crossover Team
4 stars Sometimes you have fans drool over a specific performer and you really don't see what all the fuss is about, until you go and investigate the case and then come to your own conclusions. Especially if it's in a live setting! This happened to me with bassist Ralphe Armstrong, whom I knew about with Mahavishnu Orchestra but never really delved any deeper (the MO bassists don't really get the elevated platform to propose their sound, buried under all that MacLaughlin jazz!). But I saw JL Ponty live at Jarry Park in Montreal in the early 80s, opening for Supertramp and Ralphe just blew me away, prancing joyously in his red jumpsuit! I remember going back home and diving deep into his work and paying particular attention to his style and sound. Needless to state, he remains one of my fave bassists ever. On "A Taste for Passion", he just grooves vividly, like a streaking fiery comet searing the sonic atmosphere, searing all the tracks with that trademark and iconic fretless Gibson Ripper bass that just blows me sideways. This from a very young lad (he joined MO as a 17 year-old unknown , beating out the legendary Jaco Pastorius for the bass stool!). I never really clicked with a "Taste for Passion", for 2 good reasons, first I could never get behind that hideous cover photo, arguably one of the least interesting examples of progressive artwork, a total icky turn-off and secondly, between Imaginary Voyage, Enigmatic Ocean, Cosmic Messenger and Mystical Adventures, it was kind of hard to add another glorious chapter to the Ponty pantheon.

Truth is, it's a delicious albeit mellower album, (I just prefer to imagine it with a different cover, something along the lines of Tangerine Dream's Rubycon) with superlative playing from all the musicians, especially Ralphe. But having two stylistically different guitarists is another major highlight as both the gentler Joaquin Lievano and the brasher Jamie Glaser supply a multitude of sounds, effects and tones that provide the jewels to Ponty's violin crown and Allan Zavod's keyboard scepter. If you think I maybe exaggerating the Ralphe Armstrong fawning, well check out his solo on the second track "Sunset Drive" and you will hear what I mean. Glaser adds a sexy solo to boot while the Ponty mobile drives forward on the LA freeway. JL adds his own two cents worth to stamp this as ultra-cool and dreamy stuff.

"Dreamy Eyes" is akin to the opener "Stay With Me", both typical atmospheric excursions that seep into the soul without bullying, I mean its jazz played with a strong sense of feeling and purpose, like some surrealistic pillow for the tired and groggy head! "Beach Girl" sounds uncannily like a voiceless Stealy Dan tune, complete with California breezing guitar picking from Joaquin, a sunny and tanned violin screech from Ponty while Ralphe and Casey hold down the sandy beat. Just when you think this material is too mellow, sucked in by the undulating piano, the electric guitar takes over as Lievano shows off some of his soloing ability, the drums kick wildly with some amazing fills and the master violin sears the sky on the effusive title track. On the complex "Life Cycles", its Glaser's turn to ratchet up the tension with some seriously tortured solos and a slippery synth solo from Zavod (perhaps the most underrated keysman in prog). JL then shows off his considerable talent, playing the violin like a fiddle, fast and hard. After a brief "Reminiscence" which has more classical overtones, "Give Us a Chance" is one of Ponty's typical numbers, buoyant, effortless and some thing more akin to his live performances of the time, a rumbling and devastating bass foraging wildly (he is sooooo good) , cymbals clashing with polyrhythmic fills and another Zavod ARP solo. "Farewell" is the Ponty au revoir , where a pulsating bass, funky drums and the violin coalesce as one to bid a fond goodbye to a wonderfully relaxing album. I think I am going to invite some friends over, light up the grill and play this album while sipping on some California Viognier. It's a beautiful day! 4 French strings

tszirmay | 4/5 |

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