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Mads Tolling Quartet: Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty – Live at Yoshi's

Internationally celebrated violinst Mads Tolling has steadily been building a legacy for himself as part of the Grammy Award-wining Turtle Island String Quartet. A few years ago, he formed his own ensemble (another four-piece), and they've since released three studio albums. Of course, musicians always owe a debt to their inspirations, so Tolling's newest release, Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty – Live at Yoshi's, comes as no surprise. A uniquely arranged and impeccably performed collection of covers, the album is a delight for fans of the instruments, performers, and genre in general.

Interestingly, he met Ponty while studying at Berklee College of Music. Ponty recommended that he join up with renowned jazz bassist, Stanley Clark (Return to Forever), and eventually, Tolling and Clark would perform together many times. Naturally, Tolling views this tribute as a sign of gratitude. Of the project, he says, "I think it was my goal…to have a wide range of material…I didn't want to recreate his compositions, but give a new take on them…" Recorded in Oakland, California, it's an encompassing representation of Ponty's varied work, which ranged from jazz fusion to swing and bebop.

While every track on Celebrating… is superb, an easy standout is the quartet's take on one of Frank Zappa's most adored compositions, "King Kong" (from Uncle Meat). It begins much like the original, except that the bass line is being plucked on guitar. There's a fair amount of improvisational soloing, too, as the band managers to implement every trademark moment while also incorporating plenty of new ideas. Elsewhere, "Enigmatic Ocean" contains some extremely complex syncopation and start/stop techniques, while "Last Memories of Her," as the title may suggest, is a lot more somber and delicate. Also, Ponty's "New Country" is juxtaposed exceptionally with Curtis Lewis' "Old Country." As Tolling explains, the former track "…sounds like Ponty's optimistic outlook on life after moving to the USA…," while the latter "…implies a melancholy story of an old man sitting [and] contemplating a life of missed opportunities." Indeed, Celebrating…is packed with varying emotions and levels of complexity and intensity.

Another impressive aspect is the way the album is organized conceptually; several tracks are bookended by the intro and outro portions of "Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea," and the collection closes with the two-part bang of "Intro to Pontyfication" and "Pontyfication" (an obvious play on the word "pontification," which some may feel Celebrating suffers from). Little things like this definitely help make albums more special.

All in all, it's clear that Tolling and his band put a lot of love and meticulous effort into the night's show, and every note and reaction is captured perfectly on the official release. It's usually enjoyable enough when artists simply recreate their idols' work, but to take it to the next level with reinterpretation is an even more commendable feat. Jazz enthusiasts will no doubt cherish what the quartet does on here.

Track Listing
1. Lila's Dance
2. Song to John
3. Old Country
4. Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea (Intro)
5. King Kong
6. Enigmatic Ocean
7. Bowing Bowing
8. Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea (Outro)
9. Last Memories of Her
10. New Country
11. Beatrice
12. Intro to Pontyfication
13. Pontyfication

Added: September 15th 2012
Reviewer: Jordan Blum
Related Link: Artist Website
Hits: 1992
Language: english

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Mads Tolling Quartet: Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty – Live at Yoshi's
Posted by Jon Neudorf, SoT Staff Writer on 2012-09-16 00:04:14
My Score:

A celebration indeed.

Mads Tolling was born and raised in Denmark before moving to the US to study jazz at the age of twenty. He performed in the Turtle Island Quartet for nine years before leaving earlier this year. He also played bass in Stanley Clark's band. He formed the Mads Tolling Quartet in 2007 and released their first album The Playmaker in 2009. That brings us to their new album Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty – Live at Yoshi's.

As it happens, Tolling considers Ponty to be one of his greatest heroes and this album serves to pay homage to the great French violinist with six Ponty covers and other assorted works. I have to say the result is a resounding success.

The concert was recorded at the famous Bay area club on May 30, 2011 and let me tell you the recording quality is great. This CD really captures a great performance by all band members which leads to my next point – superb musicianship. These guys can really play and to say they are in sync with each other is an understatement. Backing Mads Tolling (violin, octave violin) are Mike Abraham (guitar), George Ban-Weiss (acoustic and electric bass) and Eric Garland (drums).

The album begins with the McLaughlin penned "Lila's Dance" where delicate acoustic guitar and violin create a multitude of shades and dream-like hues before breaking into a chugging blues riff and some standout soloing from Abraham. In "Song to John" the band's subtle playing comes to the forefront led by Tolling's exquisite textures before letting his considerable chops take center stage followed by Abrahams spacey guitar explorations.

Jean-Luc Ponty's "Enigmatic Queen" is another highlight featuring simultaneous guitar and violin solos that showcase the tremendous talent these musicians possess.

The album's last track is "Pontification", an original composition that nicely incorporates Ponty's stylistic approach where all the musicians get to strut their stuff.

Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty is superbly arranged and played with fluid harmonies and scintillating musicianship. Mads Tolling Quartet has given jazz fans a treat for the ears. Highly recommended!

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