Sunday, January 23, 2005

Jean Luc Ponty - King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa (Pacific Jazz, 1969)

Ponty first performed the music of Frank Zappa during the sessions that made up Zappa's mostly instrumental album Hot Rats. Zappa returned the favor by arranging some of his new music and composing a new quasi-classical suite for Ponty's group which included George Duke on electric piano, Wilton Felder on electric bass, John Guerin on drums, Ernie Watts on saxophones and Zappa himself on guitar on one track and the leader throughout on electric violin.

The title track leads off the album with a funky electric piano riff juxtaposed against Ponty's violin. "The Idiot Bastard Son" gets a strange yearning feel during Ponty's solo. "How Would You Like to Have a Head Like That" is a Ponty original arranged by Zappa, it moves with a much more traditional jazz feel and allows for some collective improvisation from the group. The most interesting track on the album is the nearly 20 minute "Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra" which adds several classical players to the ensemble for a multi part suite that stands as one of Zappa's earliest long form classical compositions. Ponty does very well in his role as the featured soloist using both his jazz improvisational ability and his classical training to navigate the different parts of the composition which has different tempos and feelings throughout each of the segments.

I originally heard this album during a Zappa tribute on the Princeton University radio station WPRB. Pacific Jazz, which originally released this album has it's catalog controlled by Blue Note and Capitol Records so one would hope that it would be re-released on compact disc eventually. As one of the earliest fusion recordings it fills a historical niche as well as an interesting chapter in the careers of both Ponty and Zappa.

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