Anderson Ponty Band — Better Late Than Never
(Liaison LM4034, 2015, CD+DVD)
by Paul Hightower, 2015-10-30:
Jon Anderson and Jean Luc Ponty had crossed paths over the years and finally decided to collaborate in 2014, culminating with a concert in Aspen, Colorado that was filmed and recorded (a la Yes’ Keys to Ascension). Unfortunately controversy has swirled around this project from the get-go, including a botched Kickstarter campaign, revolving guitar players, and delayed product distribution. All that noise has clouded what is actually a fine album and arguably the strongest effort from Anderson in years (despite aging vocal skills). Many times I was reminded of the better moments on the ABWH album. The band – all veterans of Ponty’s live work – are uniformly stellar and Ponty himself sparkles throughout, lending a touch of elegance to ballads like “A for Aria” or lighting a fire under an otherwise tepid “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Fans will warm to his energetic intro to “Renaissance of the Sun” or zesty leads on “Roundabout.” Other Yes tracks include “Wonderous Stories,” a reggae-fied “Time and a Word,” and a truncated “And You and I.” Oddly these seem obligatory and don’t quite measure up to the new compositions (“Soul Eternal,” “New New World”) or interpretations of Ponty’s songs (“Infinite Mirage,” “Listening with Me”). Buyers should also be aware that this is a live-studio hybrid, to the point where the live guitarist (Jamie Dunlap) had his playing entirely replaced in the studio by Jamie Glaser. The concert video is good but also replete with enhancements and post-production doctoring that tries to mask any discrepancies. The song “I See You Messenger” was actually completely re-recorded in the studio, and one wonders why the group didn’t just record an album this way to be played live. Schedules never seem to allow for such luxuries, though fans of both Anderson and Ponty will still find much to enjoy here.
by Jon Davis, 2015-10-30:
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.
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