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Stanley Clarke/Biréli Lagrene/Jean-Luc Ponty: D-Stringz

James Nadal By

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As sometimes happens in life, the best experiences are those that come as an unexpected surprise. The formation of the acoustic trio D-Stringz, featuring violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, guitarist Bireli Lagrene, and bassist Stanley Clarke, was almost by accident, as they were all on the same bill back in 2012, in Paris, playing with different ensembles. As luck would have it, the sparks and mutual interest was there and guided by producer Francois Lacharme, this project came to light.

Considering the accumulated virtuosity and expertise with artists of this caliber, coming up with appropriate material was no problem. Each contributed two songs, and the rest of the repertoire is a discerning selection of jazz standards. "Stretch," by Lagrene, opens the set, with Ponty's violin punctuating the melody. There is a dominant jazz manouche (gypsy jazz) presence that permeates the entire production, and Legrene is on familiar turf here. "To And Fro," a Ponty number recycled from 2005, is carried along by Clarke as the guitar and violin swirl into spontaneous improvisations. The standard ballad "Too Young To Go Steady," is a perfect showcase for the melancholic yet lyrical interaction which is so visceral and essential in this music. Clarke displays his amazing bass skills on this tune, as his soloing is the song's highlight.

Clarke composed "Bit of Burd," as an ingenious tribute to Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, an innovative interpretation of bebop done with a lilting swing feel. One cannot get too far in this venture without coming across the looming shadow of Django Reinhardt, who's song "Nuages," is given a samba rhythm reformation. "Childhood Memories (Souvenirs D'Enfance) is Ponty's foray into classical structure, introduced by Clarke's superb bowing technique, with just a taste of the mysterious Latin tinge.

The John Coltrane monumental classic "Blue Train," is performed as an up-tempo blues, and the trio get an opportunity to show their cultivated jazz chops. Clarke offers "Paradogm Shift" as an intellectual excursion into a habanera textured soundscape, with percussionist Steve Shehan adding light embellishments in an accompanying role. What started out as a break jam on Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," soon became evident that the number would make the final cut, and it sounds like there was shared enjoyment playing this perennial standard. They bid farewell to this adventure with the upbeat "One Take," where the jovial handclapping sets the tone for an elevating finale.

These three musicians have each established their reputations, paid their dues, and have reaped the rewards from a lifetime dedicated to their craft. An occasion such as this, to perform with prodigious peers, is a genial venue to explore novel ideas and raise the awareness of possibilities. Hopefully they relished this project to the point that it will be repeated, let's hope so.

Track Listing: Stretch; To And Fro; Too Young To Go Steady; Bit Of Burd; Nuages; Childhood Memories (Souvenirs D’Enfance); Blue Train; Paradigm Shift; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; One Take.

Personnel: Jean-Luc Ponty: violin; Biréli Lagrene: acoustic guitar; Stanley Clarke: double bass, guitarron bass; Steve Shehan: percussion (8), handclaps (10).

Title: D-Stringz | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Impulse!

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