Jean-Luc Ponty, who performed twice at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall last night, holds down the violin chair in the all-time fusion orchestra that also includes John McLaughlin on guitar and Billy Cobham on drums. His career as a soloist/group leader has witnessed a string of albums and appearances that spotlights Ponty's splendid talents as well as his shortcomings.
Basically, the dividing line is tempo. On the more elegate or ballad-like melodies, Ponty's classical training and traditional European approach to compositions allow for well defined textures within which his violin stylings stand out. But when tempi shift up, it's as if Ponty is bowing to commercial pressures; things suddenly become fast and furious, but the sense of invention is less noticeable in direct correlation to the allusion of dynamics.
The one exception in a set consisting mostly of new material was "New Country," which absorbed a square-dance fiddle riff into a fushion format. What emerged was a foot-stomping, power-driven tune that served as an unintentional coda to an otherwise uneven night of familiar fusion.
Two of the Ponty's band members stood out through the evening. Keyboard player Joachim Kuhn, who wove the splendid tapestry on which Ponty embroidered, also flashed some solid and inventive solos of his own while bassist Ralph Armstrong provided alternately sensuous and stormy undertones, correctly and consistently maintaining the pulse of the music.