I was blown away when I first discovered the music of Jean Luc Ponty back in the seventies! There is no other artist alive who has done as much to stretch the boundaries of violin music as expertly and creatively as this man has! With his innovative use of synthesizers, Echoplex machines, sequencers and distortion boxes (devices normally associated with electric guitars), Ponty developed a signature sound that set him apart from all other violinists, regardless of genre.
Stylistically, his music ranges from jazz to jazz-rock fusion to African-influenced world music, with an occasional foray into country hoedown, just to keep things from becoming predictable. He handles all these styles with equal ease and virtuosity, creating an overall sound that is both exhilarating, yet hauntingly beautiful at the same time.
Of the three JLP live albums that I am familiar with, 1979's Live is the most passionate and rock-fusion oriented. With stunning performances by a group of world-class musicians who were truly on fire, this recording surely ranks as one of the top fusion albums of all time! By comparison, Live at Chene Park, recorded in Detroit in 1996, was more mellow and subdued (some have deemed it uninspired). Although there was certainly some energetic playing, such as by JLP's long-time guitarist, Jamie Glaser, Jean Luc himself generally displayed a more reflective, almost dreamy approach to his music on the Chene Park outing.
Live at Semper Opera was recorded in May of 2001 in Dresden, Germany. Here Ponty performed with his current touring band, consisting of William Lecomte on keyboards, Guy Nsangue Akwa on bass, Thiery Arpino on drums, and Moustapha Cisse on percussion. This concert performance was the most musically refined and jazz oriented of the three, and was the only one which did not include a guitarist in the line-up. While some may perceive this as a shortcoming, in my opinion Jean Luc and his band played so well together and produced such a rich sound that the guitar is not really missed. Indeed, the playing that night was incredibly tight, the performances were truly inspired, the musicianship was nothing short of astounding, and the overall sound was absolutely scintillating--a veritable treasure chest of musical gems for the attentive listener!
As far as quality of production is concerned, few concerts have ever been so expertly recorded as this one at the Semper Opera. The result is a crystal clear, studio-quality recording with the exciting ambiance of a live event. If possible, listen to this CD on a high-end stereo system, turn up the volume, close your eyes, and in no time you will find yourself in front of the stage, enveloped in the most amazing and uplifting aural experience! With music of this caliber, recorded this well, who needs drugs to get high?
In summary, one does not need to be a hard-core Jean Luc Ponty fan to enjoy this CD; even the casual fan will find much to delight in. All around, this is one of the best albums Ponty has recorded in his lengthy career. A solid five-star effort--highly recommended!