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Reviews

Anderson Ponty Band — Better Late Than Never
(Liaison LM4034, 2015, CD+DVD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2015-10-30

Better Late Than Never Cover art

Conceptually, the combination of Jon Anderson and Jean-Luc Ponty provides a kind of satisfaction for those of us who listened to both progressive rock and jazz fusion in the 70s. Certainly Yes and Ponty were two of my favorites when they were releasing such albums as Fragile, Close to the Edge, Aurora, and Enigmatic Ocean. As it happens, my interest in both artists flagged during the 80s, and I think I’m not alone in that either. The full-band Yes albums worked really hard to be mainstream pop, Anderson’s solo albums and Ponty’s were too sweet and New Agey for my taste. So here they are together, and given my feelings about them, it could be a disaster or a triumph – or something in between, which is where it ends up. For the disaster side first, we have “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Time and a Word.” The former is spoiled by too closely following the original. This is a song that I have no problem with in its original form, though the orchestra-hit samples and some of the other sounds have not aged well. But using the same orchestra samples in this live rendition is really annoying – this is the 2010s, and given the multitude of sounds available today we can to better than copy a 30-year-old fad. Even Ponty’s flashy solo can’t save this arrangement. “Time and a Word” has almost the exact opposite problem: by straying far from the original, they’ve sucked all value out of the tune. I’m not opposed to reimagining songs (and in fact generally prefer it to slavish copying), but the choice here to back a lovely melody with a reggae beat just doesn’t work for me. (It’s not even the reggae feel I object to – Kate Bush’s reggae-inflected rendition of “Rocket Man” is wonderful.) That’s the bad news; the rest of the news about Better Late Than Never is relatively good. Several Ponty classics from the 70s are given new arrangements: “Infinite Mirage” and “Renaissance of the Sun” contain elements of old pieces mashed together with each other and vocal parts that didn’t previously exist. “Soul Eternal” is a good song, and even hints at a reggae rhythm and gets it right; its middle section features the guitar and violin trading fours like in the old days. The treatments of “Roundabout,” “Wonderous Stories,” and “And You and I” work in various ways, taking elements from the originals along with some tweaks. This album is quite a mixed bag, and seems so well-intentioned that I almost feel guilty pointing out its flaws… but I call ‘em like I see ‘em.


Filed under: New releases, 2015 releases

Related artist(s): Jon Anderson, Jean-Luc Ponty

 

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