Personnel: Jean-Luc Ponty (violin); Stanley Clarke (double bass); Biréli Lagrène (acoustic guitar).
Liner Note Author: Francois Lacharme.
Recording information: ICP Studios, Brussels (08/24/2014-08/27/2014).
Photographer: Jean-Philippe Allard.
The occasion for this trio to work together was a 2010 concert that celebrated violinist Jean-Luc Ponty's 50th anniversary as a recording artist. Both the violinist and Stanley Clarke had collaborated before (a previous electric trio set with Al Di Meola, The Rite of Strings was issued in 1995), but neither had collaborated with French jazz guitarist Biréli Lagrène prior to that evening. In playing for a mere 20 minutes, they created the impetus for D-Stringz -- though it took two years for them to clear their schedules and get into a Brussels studio. These ten tunes are an assortment of standards and originals. The album is an acoustic, straight-ahead date that employs flawless swinging bop and post-bop, as well as 21st century takes on gypsy and soul-jazz and funk. John Coltrane's "Blue Train" is offered in cut time. Ponty covers the horn lines while Lagrène plays choppy, meaty chords and Clarke redefines the bass' role in a walking 12-bar blues. Ponty's solo offers the right amount of flash and punch, touching on both gypsy and modal jazz traditions. Lagrène syncopates his butt off in the changes. The reading of Joe Zawinul's Cannonball Adderley vehicle, "Mercy Mercy Mercy," is a showcase for Lagrène's gorgeous chord voicings. Ponty's solo nearly sings, and further, a call-and-response exchange between Clarke and the guitarist -- before the latter's slippery solo -- is gritty and tight. In another Coltrane reference, the reading of Jimmy McHugh's and Harold Adamson's "Too Old to Go Steady" (that the saxophonist rendered so beaut-fully on Ballads in 1963) offers a lovely conversation between the guitarist and violinist, but it's Clarke's counterpoint that steals the show. Given the trio's collective love of Django Reinhardt, it makes sense they would cover his iconic "Nuages." Ponty moves it along the ledge by rendering it contemporary; he provides a simmering bossa lilt in the melody. The bassist's "Bit of Burd" is fleet, driving bebop; everyone is on fire, but Lagrène's arpeggios are on stun. The guitarist's "Strech" binds progressive jazz, modernism, post-bop, and gypsy swing. Ponty's "To and Fro," built on a four-note riff, allows the trio to really stretch out and get their funk on. In the latter, Clarke's bassline is fat, woody, and hard-grooving. The closer, "One Take," is built on a simple two-chord vamp. Loping violin and guitar lines twist, turn, and soar, creating a lithe, breezy, funky feel but Clarke whomps down hard, binding them to the tune's groove. The sound on D-Stringz is warm and bright, but so pristine, it lends an intimate living room feel to the proceedings. All the playing is relaxed, inquisitive and inventive. D-Stringz is the sound of musical invention and delight put on offer directly. It is a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. ~ Thom Jurek