There's a reason jazz-fusion has a bad reputation. It frequently takes the simple, graceful sway of group themes and solos and allows the latter to dominate in icky extended masturbatory excess. At the same time, the melodies are often an afterthought, an excuse for noodling and aimless technique demonstrations. Jean Luc Ponty once apprenticed with Frank Zappa, who knew a thing or two about complex musicianship paired with equally complex compositions. In the intervening decades, he's slipped into the same quagmire that claims groups like the Yellowjackets, Spyro Gyra and even less appealingly new age harpist Andreas Vollenweider. His latest live release confirms the slide is nigh complete.
Ponty's band is multi-ethnic like a Benetton advertisement or a Putumayo Records collection. Everything is just too smooth, too brightly hued, too bloody soft. Recorded in October 1999 but just being released now, In Concert never amounts to much more than glorified muzak, another strain of background filler that's played with skill but little heart or imagination. Even a once lively piece like "Enigmatic Oceans (Part II)" seems drained of life, given all it intends to give in the Allan Holdsworth days.
Frequently, Ponty's once lyrical violin sounds like a machine after all the processing it now goes through. His own solos manage to be both busy and vaguely lazy. Keyboardist William Lecomte specializes in sounds not found in nature or piano. Like much of the tonal palette here, he is cold, polished, scrubbed clean of any grit. The rest of the band is serviceable. They fill the rhythm roles smoothly but without attracting too much attention.
One is reminded of the slow slide that took down Vital Information and the Pat Metheny Group, making once talented instrumentalists into well-groomed technicians who take a polite bow after each solo. Ponty's music is classy, in a starched way, but ultimately it is an unchallenging and none too rewarding experience.
Personnel: Jean Luc Ponty - violin, William Lecomte - keyboards, Guy Nsangue - akwa & bass, Thierry Arpino - drums and Moustapha Cisse - percussion