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Album Review

Al Di Meola / Jean-Luc Ponty / Stanley Clarke: Rite Of Strings Live at Montreux 1994

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Al Di Meola / Jean-Luc Ponty / Stanley Clarke: Rite Of Strings Live at Montreux 1994
By the time Al Di Meola, Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke were recorded in 1994 at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival—remarkably, in their first time ever playing together in public—each had established a solid reputation in the jazz-fusion field and beyond. Accordingly, it might be seen as destiny that the three would work together in some context and indeed they did on both stage and studio (an album from which came out the year following their appearance in Switzerland).

Featuring content virtually identical to that released on DVD eleven years after the event, this double-CD set documents the broad ingenuity and practical savvy of these well-rounded musicians. They were wise to road test five of the nine songs that would appear on the similarly-titled LP released in 1995: it gave them the opportunity to not only affirm the structure of the compositions themselves, but also to explore the improvisational possibilities of the material.

In that context, it comes as no surprise that "Song To John" (Coltrane), appears twice here. The bassist's co-write with the late keyboardist Chick Corea (his long-standing partner in various lineups of Return to Forever) effectively bookends the trio's performance, commencing the show and providing the penultimate cut, wherein resides the inimitably upbeat presence of Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander.

The first radiates an infectious, breezy air, while the second represents a not wholly dissimilar jocularity. The latter is also an overt nod to the more traditional acoustic style from which the fusion hybrid sprung, not to mention homage the overarching sense of stylistic possibility represented by the saxophone icon); the violinist, guitarist and double bassist don't dramatically alter their interplay in the differing collaborative milieus, but only that the respective contrasts of human touch are more readily apparent.

Part of the instrumental transparency on, for instance, "La Cancion De Sofia," lies in the slow unfolding of its melody. But a comparable purity is also unmistakable on the more up-tempo likes of "Memory Canyon." Perhaps not surprisingly, Ponty's is the most prominent element in the mix simply by dint of the edge inherent in his set of strings.

Not surprisingly, then, his use of effects on the spacious air of "Eulogy To Oscar Romero" is a marked but judiciously utilized departure from the otherwise stripped-down concept at work throughout Rite Of Strings Live At Montreux 1994. As a result, the spotlight for this one-time collaborator of Frank Zappa's is not only a highlight of this set, but imparts a tangible sense of pacing in line with the pragmatism at work in this partnership.

Di Meola further reaffirms the continuity of the concert with his somewhat abbreviated turn in the spotlight on "Summer Country Song." Meanwhile, Clarke's humility is such that the combination of rhythm and melody he elicits from his instrument never intrudes: his self-restraint ensures the threesome's interactions on "Renaissance" and "Chilean Pipe Song" are intricate, but not overly dense.

Certainly Di Meola, Ponty and Clarke have nothing to prove to their devoted audience, themselves or each other. By the same token, however, they do not succumb to the temptations of self-indulgence over the course of the approximately one-hundred minutes duration of the performance: their shared allegiance to the material and their alliance as musicians takes precedence. As that temperance abides, there's no evidence suggesting these men are being too careful for their own good, on their own or within the unit.

The same might be said of author Michael Heatley. On his essay inside the CD insert, the writer (mercifully) foregoes an extensive track-by-track for brief mentions of individual selections in the confines of this performance as well as in the larger context of each artist's own work. Would that were at least some technical information regarding this recording on the six pages too, but unfortunately, even with plenty of space available in a modified version of the generic layout of the jewel box art, there are no such details (not even track timings).

In the end, however, such minutiae are moot. Al Di Meola, Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke maintain an impeccable balance for themselves and their work on Rite Of Strings Live At Montreux 1994.

Track Listing

CD 1: Song to John; Memory Canyon; La Cancion De Sofia; Summer Country Song; School Days; Eulogy to Oscar Romero; CD 2: Renaissance; Song to John; Indigo.

Personnel

Jean-Luc Ponty: violin; Stanley Clarke: bass; Al Di Meola: guitar.

Album information

Title: Rite Of Strings Live at Montreux 1994 | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Mercury Studios

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