Last night’s evening fixture was a marathon, finishing long after the press contingent retired to Le Pub. Patrons, however, were glued to their seats for the intriguing and often elegant encounter between electric violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and guitarist/composer Alain Markusfeld.
Both opened with their 1978 albums: Platock for Markusfeld and Cosmic Messenger for Ponty.
The first set went to Alain and it was well into the second before Jean-Luc woke up. He’d seemed mesmerised by the guitar prowess of Markusfeld; acoustic or electric, he was fast and lyrical. The crowd seemed stunned too, having become eerily silent as it looked as if their jazz-rock hero might get blown away before he’d even got going.
Platock is an elegant instrumental album full of guitar, piano and melody. The opening acoustic guitar piece, ‘Fayava’, is stunning, flowing seamlessly into some electric stretching in ‘L’Enrouleur de Galaxies’. The versatile Monsieur M then shifts to piano and organ for the evocative ‘Automne et Éternité’. Sacrebleu, but he’s dynamite on keyboards too!
Side two is the ‘Platock Concerto’ which is less pretentious than it sounds. The movements offer the opportunity to change shot selection and tonality though Markusfeld never lets you forget he is, front and centre, a fabulous guitarist most at home on his acoustic. Classy stuff that would be lapped up by fans of Mike Oldfield’s first three albums.
The number two seed knew he needed to pull out something pretty special or he would be heading back to his Chateau. And he did, playing Upon The Wings of Music (1975) and Enigmatic Ocean (1977) back to back and taking out the match.
When he recorded Upon The Wings of Music, Ponty was still with the second incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. But those bandmates are not on his solo album. Instead he turned to keyboard player Patrice Rushen, drummer Ndugu and bassist Ralph Armstrong for a deft and versatile rhythm section. Guitar duties are shared by Dan Sawyer and Ray Parker Junior, with the latter taking some tasty solos.
But it’s Jean-Luc’s show. He wrote all eight pieces (most four to five minutes long) and is clearly the leader of the ensemble. Having said that, the others shine when space allows, particularly Ms Rushen. Highlights include the title track, the slower ‘Now I know’ and rhythmically tricky ‘Polyfolk dance’ that clues you in as to why Frank Zappa got on so well with Ponty.
Only bass player Armstrong is still on board for Enigmatic Ocean. But get the other players: Allan Holdsworth (UK, Tempest, Gong, amongst others) and Daryl Stuermer (Genesis) on electric guitars, Allan Zavod (ex-Zappa) on keys and Steve Smith on drums. This album has more prominent keyboards, and a more progressive flavour generally. But don’t let that put you off; here is a wonderfully engrossing entrée to two key seventies genres: jazz-rock and prog.
‘Mirage’ is a fabulous exemplar. Inventive but grooving, melodic yet taut. The ‘Enigmatic Ocean’ suite is grand in conception yet an accessible listening experience. Ponty has a way with short, enjoyable melodies and here they provide launch-pads for some stellar soloing. Enigmatic Ocean is a personal favourite of your correspondent. Well matched with vintage Chardonnay and camembert.
For those energised by the Ponty-Markusfeld match, there was a late night disco in the unused dance hall behind Le Pub. Four dusty mirror balls were suspended over the hastily cleared parquetry floor, over which spread an array of drunk journalists and players already eliminated from the tournament. Some were even moving, though only a handful were vertical.
Music of a distinctly Eurodisco tint was provided by Rockets, featuring the inimitable Zeus B Held on Vocoder. Described as Disco Space-Rock, the band sported suitably outa-space costumes, utilising considerable meterage of aluminium foil. The lights flickering between the mirror balls and their silvered faces made for a truly psychecelestial concert; flares both solar and trousered were much in evidence.
Playing songs from their 1978 album On The Road Again (their road being a spaceway, presumably), the band were thoroughly entertaining in a truly kitsch way. ‘Sci Fi Boogie’, ‘Space Rock’, ‘Venus Rapsody’ (sic) were all well received by the non-comatose, and the finale—their synth-boogie take on the Canned Heat classic (the title track of the album, no less—brought the house down. Hopefully it will be rebuilt in time for the post-tournament ball.