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Anderson Ponty Band at the Boulder Theater

Geoff Anderson By

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Anderson Ponty Band
Boulder Theater
Boulder, CO
May 4, 2016

Some collaborations are inevitable; Ella and Louie, Tedeschi and Trucks, peanut butter and chocolate. Others are not so obvious; Plant and Krause, Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson, pineapple and pizza (OK, maybe some people will disagree on that last one). Sometimes these seemingly unlikely pairings can be even more fun than the obvious ones because of unanticipated and serendipitous results.

The Anderson Ponty Band falls into that latter category. At first blush, the melding of Jon Anderson from the progressive rock band Yes and jazz-fusion violinist Jean-Luc Ponty seemed like it could be a clash of cultures. Rock versus jazz? Well, Miles and others fused those two nearly 50 years ago. And, although Anderson was the lead vocalist of Yes and Ponty's music has been almost exclusively instrumental, the bodies of work of the two musicians really aren't separated by oceans, either topographical or enigmatic. (See, Tales From Topographic Oceans by Yes (Atlantic, 1973) and Enigmatic Ocean by Ponty (Atlantic, 1977).) Yes, they were both on the same label in the 70s. Maybe this is a match made in inevitability!

After switching from classical music to jazz, Ponty began in a straight ahead vein, recording on the stalwart jazz label, Pacific Jazz. Before long, he hooked up with Frank Zappa, himself a purveyor of intricate jazz rock. Ponty played in Zappa's band and used him as a producer of the King Kong album (World Pacific, 1970). Yes was blazing trails in the progressive rock arena about that same time drawing heavily on classical music, but also incorporating significant jazz influences. The similarities were actually extensive. Both relied on intricate, virtuoso playing and highly arranged compositions, often in the form of suites or even mini-symphonies with multiple movements. Swirling and glistening synthesizers played an important part in the work of both artists.

Lately, Anderson and Ponty have spoken about how they've actually been discussing a collaboration since at least the 1980s. In fact, the first album from the band is entitled Better Late Than Never (Liaison, 2015) to emphasize how long this project has been percolating. The results take the music of both artists to another level.

A prime example is the song "Renaissance of the Sun." "Renaissance" is one of Ponty's greatest tunes, appearing on one of his early Atlantic records, Aurora (Atlantic, 1976). When Ponty got together with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White and Frank Gambale for the tour in support of the album Forever (Concord, 2011), the band played "Renaissance." For the Anderson Ponty Band rendition, Anderson wrote lyrics for the hitherto instrumental song and added a new lyricism. Thus, APB took a really great song and made it better.

The rest of the band consists primarily of veterans of Ponty's 1980's bands. Drummer Rayford Griffin played with Ponty for many years and appears on numerous Ponty albums. The same goes for guitarist Jamie Glaser. Keyboardist Wally Minto did the same. The newcomer to the band is Keith Jones on bass. All these musicians seemingly played anything and everything, at any tempo or volume. They easily laid down the most intricate riff, often in concert with Ponty's violin or with another band member. The overall sound, not surprisingly, was somewhat closer to Ponty's than Yes's.

Anderson's distinctive upper register voice made Yessongs immediately recognizable. And it's his voice, more than anything else that evokes echoes of Yes in the APB. At age 71 Anderson sounds great. His voice remained strong and clear throughout the entire two and a half hour performance (with an intermission) Wednesday night at the Boulder Theater. The voice is the weak link in many classic rockers, but Anderson has done whatever it takes to preserve his. He didn't limit himself to singing, but often selected a guitar-type instrument to play on most of the songs. Yes was famous for using unusual looking instruments. Guitarist Steve Howe often used guitars seemingly designed by Roger Dean, the artist who drew the Yes album covers and Wednesday night, Anderson's instruments seemed to be cut from the same cloth. Yes bassist Chris Squire was known to play a triple neck guitar. Wednesday night, Anderson also added percussion on occasion during some of the longer instrumental breaks.

The set list included both Yes tunes and Ponty songs. None was an exact copy of the originals. Besides "Renaissance of the Sun," Anderson has added lyrics to other Ponty songs as well, for example, turning "Mirage" into "Infinite Mirage" and "Rhythms of Hope" has become "One in the Rhythm of Hope." These songs are based on the original Ponty compositions with lyrics and some new melodies added by Anderson.

The Yes catalog was well represented in the set list as well. And while the Ponty tunes were Anderson-ized, the Yes tunes were Ponty-ized. "Long Distance Runaround" is one that benefited the most from the treatment. The APB version Wednesday night was acoustic and, while maintaining the original lyrics and melody, had a new jazzy sheen. "Owner of a Lonely Heart" was actually pretty close to the hit version, but others, such as "And You and I" and the ever-popular "Roundabout" sported significant modifications.

At one point during the between-song banter, Anderson said that people sometimes ask him what type of music APB plays. He shrugged. Indeed, Wednesday's set went far beyond progressive-jazz-rock. Ponty, in particular, seemed responsible for much of the musical mash up. The second set began with a Ponty favorite, "New Country" from Imaginary Voyage (Atlantic, 1976). As the name implies, it had a distinct country feel. "Under Heaven's Door" followed, another song seemingly born in the wide open spaces as opposed to a gritty urban environment. "Jig" changed things up again, this time in an Irish direction. "Time and a Word" took the proceedings to Jamaica for a distinct reggae feel, even quoting Bob Marley's "One Love" in an extensive coda.

Ponty remains one of the top violinists on the scene. He continues to move effortlessly from one musical context to another all the while putting forth one creative and inventive solo after another. With the Anderson Ponty Band, both he and Anderson have created a musical force based on the past but, at the same time, new and forward-looking and most importantly of all, vital, engaging and vastly entertaining.
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