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.
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.