When we talk about world music, we often use the phrase in quiet desperation to describe music that defies familiarity and our expectations but still appeals to us. Its very newness is often both slightly disturbing and refreshing at the same time.
Two years before No Absolute Time was released in 1993, Jean-Luc Ponty (JLP) produced one called Tchokola. In an interview for this re-release, JLP said, "Tchokola was a very special project for me. I recorded it exclusively with West African musicians and singers, and co-wrote the music with them. At that time, I was living full time in Los Angeles, but I discovered these musicians in Paris while touring with my band. Each track was based on a traditional rhythm from a specific area in West Africa, like Senegal, Cameroon etc.
"These rhythms were so rich that I decided to use some of them again in No Absolute Time, but this time meld in my more familiar musical style. I also wrote all the material myself."
For No Absolute Time, JLP chose to use a mixed bandthe same bassist from Cameroon, Guy Nsangué, who could also play jazz and R&B, a percussionist from Senegal, Mustapha Cisse, and a Moroccan drummer they recommended, Moktar Samba. Ponty prepared all the background keyboards tracks, and went to Paris to record the rhythm section. The rest of the album was recorded in Los Angeles with American keyboardist Wally Minko, and guitarist Kevin Eubanks as a guest on one track. "I love his playing," JLP said, "and he does a great job." At the time, Eubanks was the bandleader on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
The electronic experimentation of Open Mind is back, but the music of West Africa is joyously ever present. The album exudes groove, and shows Ponty deftly blending the electronic music he helped popularize with a variety of West African rhythms. Which he then improvises over in a clearly recognizable Jean-Luc Ponty style. The compositions are typically graceful, almost cosmopolitan. A good example of this hybrid approach is the title track "No Absolute Time." It has three polyrhythms (hence the reason for the song's name), and then an insistent triplet feel in the second section.
"Blue Mambo" has a particularly compelling groove, and "Savannah" is based on the "Juju" style from Nigeria.
"Caracas" was inspired by the salsa music JLP heard while touring Venezuela.
"The African Spirit" is based on the Sabar rhythm from Senegal; "Speak Out" is based on the Bikutsi dance rhythm groove from Southern Cameroon.
So from Paris to LA to West Africa to the inner space of electronica, this album is truly an example of World music in both time and geographythough to be more accurate perhaps we should call it World Fusion Groove. Another first for the maestro!
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