Anderson Ponty Band - Better Late Than Never

Anderson Ponty Band – Better Late Than Never

Somewhere around 1980, Jon Anderson approached Jean-Luc Ponty with a view to a collaboration. Now, over thirty years later, the man from Accrington and the man from Avranches, two very different environments, have finally got together. The album was recorded live in Aspen, Colorado, which goes some way to explain the sound and feel, and then tweaked in the studio. I looked forward to this album when I first heard of its planned release, and overall it has not disappointed. I always considered Yes to have a jazz element, particularly in their early work, and combining this with former Frank Zappa musician and credible artiste in his own right Jean-Luc Ponty seemed to me to create an interesting combination.

So let’s get the gripes out of the way. Just two really; in an album of covers of Yes material, Jean-Luc material and a couple of new bits, it’s not bad but although a cover must bring something new to a song it should not slaughter what are essentially sacred cows. So what, in my view, went to the abattoir? Firstly, Time and a Word, a song with a lot of feeling, pathos if you will, all the sentiment and meaning is lost in a cod reggae version. Don’t get me wrong, in a live environment this may actually work. I recall seeing Fairport Convention doing a reggae style Matty Groves live and it was really enjoyable, but, for me, this does not. Professionally done with good musicianship, but the heart of the song, gone. Similarly, Wondrous Stories, a song which when performed by Yes (and Jon) is just plain enjoyable.

The album opens with an intro, this is the band statement and as such delivers some promise before moving into the first track, One in the Rhythm of Hope, a blending of J-LP’s Rhythm of Hope and “Yesisms”. It works well, Anderson’s voice reaches its heights and Ponty’s violin provides a jazz feel. This is much a pattern for the album, Yes revisited, a merging of Yes and J-LP with a few new bits.

A for Aria is a lovely piece, it has the feeling that the reggae version of Time and A Word has lost to my ears. Jon, although the voice is older, can still sound as powerful and emotive as ever. Other tracks hit these high points too, most markedly Listening with Me and Soul Eternal.

Owner of a Lonely Heart works for me, it has had some of the eighties bombast removed but still manages to retain the shape and feeling of the original, violin substituting for the guitar work of Trevor Rabin does not devalue the song so a thumbs up from me on this one.

Infinite Mirage blends the rock and jazz influences but also manages a poppy feel with a distinct live element. Overall it is a strange album, part rock, part jazz, part lounge, an occasional indulgence (eek!), some even meriting owning, especially in the current presence of a wayward studio Yes.

Soul Eternal is what Wonderous Stories could have been, a track filled with hope and the expectations that I have of a classic Yes track. My perspective on this is mainly as a Yes rock fan, and much as I love my jazz too, I have not exposed myself to a lot of J-LP’s back catalogue, I will however make it a mission to explore.

And You & I is almost a straight Yes cover, if covering your own material is in fact a cover. It’s fine, it works, and nothing of its essence is lost. Unlike the jazz lounge Wonderous Stories, not far from Alas Smith & Jones and now the tears of laughter fall. Though currently sat in the shed with a glass of merlot and Wonderous Stories playing, it is not as offensive as on first listen. Merlot mellows the savage ear…

Renaissance of the Sun is one of the jointly composed pieces and it’s very very nice. First sound of the audience. Yup, the merlot is working, feeling very chilled with this piece, can recommend it for late night chilling.

Roundabout is a mad and crazy jazzed up version of the Yes classic, this is what a musical conglomeration should be, a little from both, losing nothing and adding a different edge to get close to. And it would seem that the band finally express themselves freely. Long time coming for a live recording.

I See You Messenger and the last track, New New World, show the true potential of this project and I do hope they have another go but with more new material.

It was recorded live, and I wonder if the DVD that accompanies the deluxe version of the album gives more life to the performance, in particular those two tracks that disappoint me. Perhaps with movement and cheesy grins they become more than party pieces. Sadly, the review copy is just audio so I may never know. The production values are good, something that seemed to be missing from the last Yes studio album. I think that if you like Jon with Yes, Jean-Luc Ponty and a little jazz orientated music, yours to own will be no disgrace. Some tracks will happily go on to a prog mix for the car, others….

If this is the first of a few from Anderson Ponty then it is a good start. 30 years in the making, but a good start.

01. Band Intro (1:17)
02. One in the Rhythm of Hope (4:34)
03. A for Aria (3:22)
04. Owner of a Lonely Heart (5:04)
05. Listening with Me (5:39)
06. Time and a Word (5:30)
07. Infinite Mirage (3:48)
08. Soul Eternal (4:58)
09. Wonderous Stories (4:01)
10. And You and I (3:00)
11. Renaissance of the Sun (6:36)
12. Roundabout (5:27)
13. I See You Messenger (3:50)
14. New New World (3:46)

Total time – 60:52

Jon Anderson – Vocals, Guitar
Jean-Luc Ponty – Violin
Jamie Glaser – Guitars
Wally Minko – Keyboards
Baron Browne – Bass
Rayford Griffin – Drums & Percussion

Record Label: Ear Music
Year Of Release: 2015

Anderson Ponty Band: Website | Facebook
Jon Anderson: Website | Facebook
Jean-Luc Ponty: Website