If Individual Choice was the sketchbook of Jean-Luc Ponty's (JLP) decision to take his music in a new direction, Open Mind (1984), released the following year, was a deeper exploration of the emerging world of synthesizers and sequencers and their impact on live (studio) performance. Here, complex rhythmic patterns shift in the background while new sounds appear and disappear on the surface in colorful bursts, and outstanding jazz improvisors create familiar music in new settings. It's almost an audio version of a kinetic wind sculpture.
In an interview for the re-release of this album, JLP explained, "I had just gotten a brand new solid body electric violin made by Zeta in the San Francisco area, which I used on some tracks, and my old Barcus-Berry on a more traditional violin on others.
"These were the years when I was totally into electronic sounds and effects and liking these hypnotic repetitive grooves on just a few chords. They sounded simple but with a few chord changes here and there, that always surprised all the soloists I invited to play with me on this otherwise solo album. They demanded a lot more attention when soloing over them than anyone expected, including me."
In deciding to explore the concept he'd introduced in Individual Choice, Ponty played all the keyboards parts himself, adding a Roland rhythm machine which he liked because of its synthetic samples, as opposed to faking real drums and percussion sounds. He also invited two longtime friends to solo on different tracks, Chick Corea, who does superb solos on two tracks with his Moog synthesizer, and George Benson whom JLP had met and played with when they were both 21 years old. Benson was then a member of Jack McDuff's band, and JLP had been hired as a guest artist after Benson's manager heard him at a jazz festival in France in 1964.
"George is for me one of the greatest jazz guitarists in the world," Ponty said, "and he proves it with his amazingly creative solo on "Modern Times Blues."" The same is true for Ponty, who manages to explore the "robotic" while at the same time on this album in particular, revealing honest emotional beauty in his improvisation and compositions. While it is Chick on the opening track "Open Mind," and "Watching Birds," it's Ponty playing piano with confidence and grace on "Solitude."
In many ways with this record and its predecessor, Ponty pointed the way for how modern music is now created. The only thing that has really changed since this record was released is the sophistication of the electronic tools musicians use.
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