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Ponty Keeps The Zing In His Step

October 13, 1987|DON HECKMAN

Jean Luc Ponty's image, in the '60s and '70s, as the savior of the jazz violin is beginning in the late '80s to look a bit tarnished.

His performance at the Greek Theater on Saturday night was less a musical event than a bombastic celebration of electronic technology--one in which the heart and soul of Ponty's playing seemed to have been replaced by digital delays and central processing units.

Which is not to say that he's lost any of the zing in his technique. Concentrating mostly on the Zeta electronic violin (with a notable foray on his acoustic instrument), Ponty was as fleet as ever, tossing off supercharged runs that would have impressed a Heifetz.

But rarely did those runs move beyond sheer mechanical prowess into the rhythmic snap and drive so characteristic of his playing a decade ago. When they did--as in "Between the Sea and the Sky" and "Metamorphosis"--Ponty's music sparkled and gleamed. His acoustic playing on "Once a Blue Planet" and the real sense of swing he brought to "Open Mind" were the highlights of the program. More often, his pieces, despite their prepossessing titles, merged into a long, anonymous stream of rapid sound-making.

Most of the evening's musical electricity was provided by the sturdy bass of Baron Browne and the hard-driving percussion of Rayford Griffin. Keyboardist Wally Minko played well enough in his few solo spots to make one want to hear more. But guitarist Jamie Glazer's more frequent solos tended to substitute rapid runs up and down the scales for musical ideas.

With much of the program devoted to pieces from Ponty's new Columbia album, "The Gift of Time," the prospects for a revival of the passion and substance of his earlier work seem slim indeed.

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