(1991) also opens with a "down home" blues, giving saxophonist Houston Person, Ponder, and pianist Benny Green
each a short solo in which they establish themselves as capable blues players. The album continues with Ponder exploring the harmonically complex jazz ballad "Soul Eyes." Ponder stays close to John Coltrane
's well-known arrangement pf the Mal Waldron
composition, though he plays the first half of the melody as a solo arrangement, allowing Green to finish the melody and Person improvise over the changes. In contrast to Ponder's rubato solo ending is an aggressive funk version of Miles Davis' famous composition "All Blues." Drummer Victor Jones, a long time sideman with Ponder, exhibits his 1970s funk upbringing, propelling the song as Peter Washington lays down the bass groove. The rest of the album unfolds, setting ballads and swing songs against funk songs. "You Don't Have To Go," the closing song of Soul Eyes
, ends in the same vein as it opened; with an acknowledgement of the importance of their urban blues roots.
Ponder's last three albums on HighNote, Thumbs Up
(2000), and What's New
(2002), feature him in more exposed musical settings than on his previous albums. For many jazz guitarists, the lack of a pianist or saxophonist hinders their ability to improvise to their greatest ability and creatively experiment. This most often is due to being unaccustomed to filling the missing roles and being dependent on the force of a full band to drive their creative energy. For Ponder, the extra creative space allows him to further utilize his dynamic approach in developing his solos and interacting with his sidemen. Ponder's voice is, beyond his approach to tone and melodic treatment, distinguished by his comprehensive conceptual method wherein he maintains a balance between rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic material, arranging them so to maintain a steady dialogue and progression of improvised ideas.On Thumbs Up
, Ponder uses the traditional guitar trio format (guitar, bass, drums), which continues to comprise many of his live performances. With Pittsburgh bassist Dave Pellow and drummer-producer Cecil Brooks III
, Ponder presents a selection of jazz standards performed in swing and bossa nova styles. With exception of the last track, "Funk Wit Dis," Thumbs Up
is what could be considered a traditional "straight ahead" album, demonstrating Ponder's fluency in jazz styles of the 1940s and 50s. In similar convention, Alone
and What's New
move away from R&B and urban blues to traditional swing. For Ponder, whose early playing experiences were in R&B and soul jazz groups, this tendency towards the "traditional" marks an amalgamation of musical experiences rather than a return to his "roots." On Alone
, amongst the few commercially released solo jazz guitar albums following innovative solo recordings of Joe Pass
, Ponder takes on difficult jazz standards, such as "Lullaby Of Birdland" and "Stompin' At The Savoy," stringing together block chord harmonized melodies while maintaining the strong swing feel. What's New
presents Ponder in the organ trio (Hammond organ, guitar, drums) format where he is free to exploit his melodic approach on his choice standards.
After Ponder returned to Pittsburgh from Newark in the late 1980s, he did not regularly perform with New York sidemen. Besides short tours as a sideman or recording, the bulk of Ponder's performances from 1990 to 2006 were with local artists at local clubs. Ponder regularly appeared both as a solo act as well as leading a quartet at Craig Poole's jazz club James Steet Located in Pittsburgh's North side, James Steet maintained a regular performance schedule of local and east coast jazz and R&B bands until its close in 2005. The two intimately cramped and low-lit floors provided an ideal environment for Ponder to perform. With Pittsburgh musicians such as Mike Taylor (b), Dave Pellow (b), Dwayne Dolphin (b), Tony DePaolis (b), George Heid (d), Roger Humphries (d), Tom Wendt (d), Jevon Rushton (d), Howie Alexander (p), and Gene Ludwig
(org), Ponder continues performing with fiery energy. Ponder's recent albums occasionally feature a Pittsburgh associate such as Something To Ponder (1994) with Roger Humphries and James Street (1997) with Dwayne Dolphin, though most are New York based artists associated with HighNote. The result has been albums that capture Ponder's approach to interpreting jazz, blues, and R&B standards yet largely fail to communicate the energy and dynamics of his live performance.
PERFORMANCE AND RECORDING IDENTITIES