Whipnotiq

Wax Runoff: Jean-Luc Ponty [SD 18163]

Who is this scruffy dark haired man always popping up in the P’s section of the record store? That would be French-born, LA-dwelling, and crucially funky jazz violinist and songwriting savant Jean-Luc Ponty. Most people know him for his work with Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention, before he stepped out on his own. Aurora follows a variety of more straight-ahead jazz and collaboration records, and is effectively Ponty’s second solo jazz fusion LP.

jean-luc ponty

SD 18163

In addition to Ponty the line-up features a young Patrice Rushen on keyboards, Darryl Stuermer on guitars, Tom Fowler on electric bass, and Norman Fearrington on drums and percussion. Save for Rushen, this fairly unknown ensemble delivers a wide array of world-class cuts, ranging from blistering and virtuosic to emotive and pensive.

The uptempo “Is Once Enough?” kicks off the record, complete with solos from Ponty, Stuermer, and Rushen on Rhodes piano. “Renaissance” follows, a track featuring Ponty on auto-harp as well as violin. This is a highlight of the record for me, and apparently for others who draw inspiration from it. Stuermer and Ponty’s almost bouzouki sounding acoustic guitar and violin harmonization is so on point that its skill and technique can accidentally be overlooked. Sit back and enjoy this one.

The title tracks begin with a semi-atonal 5/4 based groove, complete with bass fills from Fowler. Part 1 does a wonderful job of setting up the funk to come in Part 2. Stuermer and Ponty duke it out again before the rest of the band joins in for the fun, resulting in quite possibly the stankiest 7/4 groove cut to wax. Play this one for the floor and watch people get weird.

The B-side follows a similar pattern to side A, but it certainly stands on its own. It leads with the blistering jazz rock of “Passenger Of The Dark” and is followed by the goosebump inducing “Lost Forest”. Of course Ponty and Stuermer’s counterpoint stand out, but Fowler’s borderline psychedelic phased out electric bass, complete with some power chords, really add a thick element to this cut. You might need to put this one on repeat.

“Between You and Me” sounds like if Yacht Rock musicians could rip, and I mean that in the best way possible. Proper sunshine grooves. It serves as a phenomenal penultimate track, before “Waking Dream” takes us into space with a variety of synthesizers, guitars, and effected violins.

Ponty’s Aurora is over 40 years old this year, yet it continues to stand the test of time. You can snag a copy on Discogs but can also probably find it in your local record store from $2-$15. Don’t sleep on it.

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Peter Croce is a Detroit-born and now Chicago-dwelling deejay, producer, and label boss. He owns and operates Rocksteady Disco, Mr. PC Versions, and MotorCity Wine Recordings.

Israel Vines

Born in Atlanta, Israel Vines was mostly raised in a small town two hours west of Detroit. By 10 years old he had lived in nearly 12 different houses in six states. After graduating from Michigan State University he moved to Chicago in 1997 where he remained for four years eventually making his way back to Michigan for graduate school. He stayed there for six years before moving to Los Angeles in 2008 where he currently lives with his wife.

He cut his teeth DJing in the early ‘90s and a few years later he delved into production. By 2010 he established his label Borrowed Language and it grew with the help of artists Jeff Pietro and Justin Ivey.

The now retired label nods to the concept that “all music is essentially a borrowed language.” His friend, fellow DJ/producer, Karl Meier came up with that line. For more than a decade the name Borrowed Language was used by Vines for club nights, mixes and the like before creating the label. First and foremost he says that he used this platform to “acknowledge the fact that DJing and making techno isn’t a case of reinventing the fucking wheel. There’s a basic blueprint that hasn’t changed all that much over the years. A lot has changed, but the basic DNA has not. That’s the Borrowed Language part.

“As far as acknowledging the historical background, there are many ways to do that. There are a lot of producers who make sort of throw-back style tracks, which when done right I think is great. Additionally, there are a lot of older DJs who are very much committed to and conscious of playing a lot of older material in their sets – which again, I think is fantastic. I take both of those approaches, but only to a degree,” he says. “I play some classics. I program tried and true electro beats. But more than all of that, I try to keep the original spirit of this music in mind while producing or DJing, and to me that means keeping a sense of wonder, adventure, and tension in the sounds that I’m working with.”

When he speaks about music you will find that he often draws parallels between music and language. Narratives are incredibly present in our lives. In books, film and music we are constantly being told a story. He does so through his sets and productions.

“Without getting too deep, I think that the idea is both basic and difficult. On a basic level, it’s just like anything else with which you create a narrative – words, images, shapes. There are peaks and valleys, there are hot and cool moments, there are things that are soothing, and there are things that are jarring. Fitting them all into a cohesive arc is the difficult part, and there’s no real secret sauce to it. If there were, it would be for sale by now. At the end of the day it’s a feeling that one attempts to translate into something that others can experience with them.” –  ISRAEL VINES

Although music has been a driving force for most of his life he says that he is relatively a wallflower to the scene itself. When it comes to the way music has evolved, particularly in the electronic field, Vines speaks on the way trends have infringed on the underground. “I’ve never been all that connected with the ‘scene,’ as it were – but more primarily with the music. One thing that I can say for sure is that I’m glad that the whole ‘MNML’ and tech-house phases seem to have passed. I mean, we have EDM to deal with now, which is fucking annoying, but at least it’s a lot easier to differentiate the underground from what that whole side of things encompasses,” he says.

Underground electronic music can often be misjudged through the surface mainstream lens to be considered EDM. A proverbial tick for the culture, EDM has more or less had an impact on the more authentic lifestyle of techno and house music. “MNML and tech-house producers were sort of wolves in sheep’s clothing in a way, as they were just watered down and non-creative versions of more underground music – but they were close enough in some cases to pass as legitimate. EDM is, in its own way, honest about its awfulness,” he says. But that’s another story for another day.

What makes Vines unique among many other influential artists is his determination to never compromise his vision. His personal inspirations include Marcel Duchamp, Charles Bukowski, Cormac McCarthy, Stanley Kubrick, to name a few. When it comes to producing music he stays true to that mentality. Vines has releases on labels Cult Figures as well as Semantica Records. He has put out remixes for Erika, U.K. producer Makaton, and Chicago’s Stave. Additionally he has been doing collaboration work with Chicago artist Kit Geary and putting our releases under the moniker KGIV.

His WWKD EP launched the Eye Teeth imprint off of Detroit’s Interdimensional Transmissions. The vision for that label is one that encompasses “American Techno” and explores the genre through a contemporary lens. Per the label, Eye Teeth’s output “is Techno from Detroit and America, not Detroit Techno. We would like to see American Techno evolve, and this new imprint is an attempt to be a catalyst in that arena.”

Vines has a long running relationship that is “both old and new” with the Interdimensional Transmissions family. “I was buying Ectomorph records basically from the time that I started DJing, and I came up around the same time as the extended IT family. I was at the first No Way Back party. I played my first DJ gig with Patrick Russell. I had hung out a bit with Carlos and Erika. I knew Servito and Derek. Brendan was the one that I never really hung out with until later. No particular reason, I guess, but mostly because I wasn’t that social in the scene,” he says. “As far as a professional relationship, that didn’t come until I was running my own label. I had put a few records out, and my friend Sarah, who has always been a big supporter of mine, brought the label to Brendan’s attention.”

After he put out a remix for “Gardeners” by Erika, Brendan M. Gillen (otherwise known as BMG) started talking with Vines about Eye Teeth. “Since then both he and Erika have been my biggest support in terms of getting my music out and promoting me as an artist. As far as my music encompassing anything at all – that’s Brendan and Erika’s vision for the label. If that’s what my music does to their ears, well, that makes me happy. I just make the music that I make and hand it over,” he says.   

Everywhere he has lived he has explored the music world. Particularly while living in Chicago he worked at the legendary Gramaphone Records and learned more of the intricacies of music history while working there. After opening in 1969 it has seen decades of patrons and has been home to some of America’s most beloved house and techno artists. Currently owned by Michael Serafini, employees of Gramaphone included DJ Sneak, Derrick Carter, DJ Heather, Karl Meier, Sassmouth, Garret David, and Ike Release to name a few.

Vines says, “There are hours of stories there, but the most important thing is that the original owners, Joe, Doug (RIP), and Carl were pioneers. They opened the shop long before house and techno really broke, and they weren’t afraid to welcome it. They had specific buyers for every genre of dance music and ‘trusted the kids,’ as it were, to steer the ship. In terms of what came through – and there were a ton of very knowledgeable people doing as much before I got there and after I left. Michael Serafini continues that legacy today.”

Now living in Los Angeles he can be found balancing two different worlds. During his free time he works on music and performs but by day he can be found teaching high school English. “The worlds don’t collide all that much. I rarely miss school for gigs. Sometimes Mondays are rough, but that’s the way it goes with any DJ who has a day job, I’d imagine,” he says.

Vines received his English degree from Michigan State University where he also studied Political Science, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. He earned his graduate degree at Wayne State University in Detroit and from there pursued his path into teaching. “Teaching is great. It keeps me on my toes and the young people today give me hope for the most part. They’re much more open to people who are different than they are compared to the adults running things these days, and I think that in a few election cycles we’re going to see a huge swing in the direction of a more progressive mindset. This is my hope, anyway. With what has happened in the last year it’s very hard to say with any certainty, but this is my hope.”

Clearly of a poetic frame of mind he says that he previously was a creative writer and in the future, when his music career starts to transform, he may live a life of leisure. “I don’t do much creative writing any more, as music pretty much dominates my creative life. I may go back to it when I get older. I joke with my wife that when I’m older and retired I’ll probably spend my days brewing beer, working in the garden, making drone music, and writing poetry. The joke may very well stick, we’ll see.”

Catch Israel Vines and Kamal Naeem tonight Jan. 7 for his Buffalo debut for the Sequencer/Redux party.