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Jean-Luc Ponty: King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa

Album Reviews:

Rolling Stone (8/6/70, p.33) - "...Jean-Luc Ponty is a French gypsy violinist with an unusually fluid style that is full of wide leaps, unorthodox bowing techniques, and big surprises....a major musical mastermind..."

Down Beat (12/93, p.46) - 4.5 Stars - Very Good Plus - "...[KING KONG is] the extraordinary 1969 album that helped establish Ponty as a versatile and progressive jazz violinist....the violinist twists and turns through straightahead and free jazz, 20th-century classical and rock stylings...."

Musician (12/93, p.93) - "...Ponty's command of Frank Zappa's quirky polymetric arrangements on KING KONG have aged gracefully....[it] makes us long for the days when we believed a violinist had arrived who could blow modern jazz in tune, and with feeling...."

Album Notes

Personnel: Jean-Luc Ponty (violin); Ian Underwood (conductor, alto & tenor saxophones); Ernie Watts (alto & tenor saxophones); Vincent DeRosa (French horn, descant); Arthur Maebe (French horn, tuben); Johnathan Meyer (flute); Gene Cipriano (oboe, English horn); Donald Christlieb (bassoon); Milton Thomas (viola); Harold Bemko (cello); Gene Estes (vibraphone, percussion); George Duke (piano); Frank Zappa (guitar); Buell Neidlinger, Wilton Felder (bass); Arthur Tripp III, John Guerin (drums).

Not just an album of interpretations, King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa was an active collaboration; Frank Zappa arranged all of the selections, played guitar on one, and contributed a new, nearly 20-minute orchestral composition for the occasion. Made in the wake of Ponty's appearance on Zappa's jazz-rock masterpiece Hot Rats, these 1969 recordings were significant developments in both musicians' careers. In terms of jazz-rock fusion, Zappa was one of the few musicians from the rock side of the equation who captured the complexity -- not just the feel -- of jazz, and this project was an indicator of his growing credibility as a composer. For Ponty's part, King Kong marked the first time he had recorded as a leader in a fusion-oriented milieu (though Zappa's brand of experimentalism didn't really foreshadow Ponty's own subsequent work). Of the repertoire, three of the six pieces had previously been recorded by the Mothers of Invention, and "Twenty Small Cigars" soon would be. Ponty writes a Zappa-esque theme on his lone original "How Would You Like to Have a Head Like That," where Zappa contributes a nasty guitar solo. The centerpiece, though, is obviously "Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra," a new multi-sectioned composition that draws as much from modern classical music as jazz or rock. It's a showcase for Zappa's love of blurring genres and Ponty's versatility in handling everything from lovely, simple melodies to creepy dissonance, standard jazz improvisation to avant-garde, nearly free group passages. In the end, Zappa's personality comes through a little more clearly (his compositional style pretty much ensures it), but King Kong firmly established Ponty as a risk-taker and a strikingly original new voice for jazz violin. ~ Steve Huey


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