USA: Stanley Clarke, Bireli Langrene, and Jean-Luc Ponty - "D-STRINGZ" - Available November 6 via impulse! Records
Electric Titans Stanley Clarke, Biréli Langrène,
& Jean-Luc Ponty Venture Forth Into
Acoustic-Realm for D-STRINGZ
Available November 6 on impulse! Records
Unalloyed felicity is the best way to describe D-STRINGZ, the new disc by the cooperative trio - violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, bassist Stanley Clarke, and guitarist Biréli Lagrène.
These three distinctive titans consolidate their singular voices while
exploring vast stylistic idioms within jazz's expansive realm, resulting
in a cohesive sound that plays to the strength of each individual's
virtuosity and more importantly their keen sense of musical
interactivity. Each of these musicians are renowned for their incredible
work within the electric jazz realm; D-STRINGZ
shows them venturing into the acoustic realm and exhuming four jazz
gems while also contributing fetching originals that shine new light to
their individual gifts as composers.
Given the ardent accord they
display on the album, their history together as a unit is relatively
short. The trio's origins date back to 2012 when French jazz impresario
and the disc's associate producer François Lacharme,
produced an all-star concert at Paris' Chatelet Theatre to salute
Ponty's 50-year-long career. In addition to performing with an
orchestra, Ponty organized two trios, one of which included Clarke - a
longtime music collaborator - and Lagrène, whom neither Ponty nor Clarke
had yet performed with prior. The three only performed five pieces
during a 20-minute set, yet the performance's impact was so immense that
it inspired Lacharme to converse with Jean-Philippe Allard
- jazz director of Universal Music France and general manager for
Impulse! Records - about the prospects of recording them. Two years
later, the three nestled inside the ICP studios in Brussels for four
days to record D-STRINGZ.
The acoustic violin-bass-guitar setting isn't new for Ponty or Clarke. The two released the critically acclaimed Rites of Strings
disc in 1995 with the legendary Al Di Meola; but as Ponty notes, that
trio focused solely on original compositions while also delivering music
structures more aligned with jazz-rock. D-STRINGZ, in comparison, yields closer to straight-ahead jazz while also retooling a few jazz standards.
The first standard to appear on
the disc is Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson's 1955 ballad, "Too Old to
Go Steady," which was wonderfully rendered by John Coltrane on his
classic 1963 Impulse Records! LP, Ballads. Here, Ponty
articulates the composition's lamenting melody as Lagrène strums
alluring chords and Clarke anchors them with a simpatico counterpoint.
Soon after, Lagrène takes the lead, alternating between single-note
lines and succinct chordal strumming. D-STRINGZ
references Coltrane again - and more directly - with its delightful
reading of his 1957 composition, "Blue Train," on which Ponty swings the
melody masterfully, while animating it with capricious embellishments
and sharp cries that demonstrate his fluidity in hard-bop. Clarke
supplies the rendition with an ebullient walking bass line while Lagrène
gussies up the rhythm with his spry comping before launching into a
knotting improvisation, which gives way to Clarke's blues-laden aside.
The trio tips its hat to
French-Romanian jazz legend Django Reinhardt with an inventive makeover
of his 1940 hit, "Nuages." Ponty recasts the "hot jazz club" staple with
a supple bossa nova undercurrent, initially powered by Lagrène's
spidery accompaniment and Clarke's dancing pulse. Josef Zawinul's 1966
"Mercy Mercy Mercy," which became a smash hit for Cannonball Adderley,
rounds out the standards on D-STRINGZ. The
idea to cover the soul-jazz classic was rather impromptu after the trio
had challenged itself with Coltrane's "Blue Train." While taking a
break, the song popped into conversation, which led Ponty to search for
it on YouTube . Then voilá; the trio delved into the gospel-infused
Photo Credit: Philippe Levy-Stab
The original tunes from the band are equally mesmerizing. D-STRINGZ kicks off with a splendid take on Lagrène's intrepid "Stretch," which first appeared on his 1990 disc, Acoustic Moments.
After the trio tackles the compositions' tricky introduction, the
updated version takes on a more groove-laden pulse as the trio ricochets
snippets of melody with blinding speed. The funk continues with Ponty's
"To and Fro," an original that he penned in 2005 for another trio with
Clarke and banjo player Belá Fleck. The trio retains the original's
electronica dance feel by asserting its serrating rhythm with Lagrène
first tickling out 12-note riff, followed by Ponty then Clarke. The song
also allows Lagrène to showcase his affinity for R&B-inspired
rhythmic guitar comping and soulful melodic improvising.
The enigmatic "Childhood
Memories (Souvenirs D'Enfance)" is the other original that the violinist
contributed to the session. It's a tune that he wrote several years ago
but hadn't made it onto a recording until D-STRINGZ.
The ballad is noteworthy in how Ponty switches the roles of lead voice
and accompaniment with Clarke; it begins with Ponty plucking an
intriguing pizzicato figure while Clarke bows a stunning melody on arco
bass. When Lagrène enters, alternating between crisp chord strumming and
single-notes, the song takes on a cinematic, Latin-tinge sensibility,
which is heightened by Clarke's second upright bass solo.
Clarke contributed two
compositions as well. He pays homage to two of his bebop heroes -
pianist Bud Powell and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker - with the
vivacious "Bit of Burd," which utilizes familiar bebop chord changes. As
Clarke steers the composition with a brisk mid-tempo, it becomes a
splendid vehicle for all three to craft writhing improvisations while
also demonstrating each member's knack for comping. Clarke's frisky
"Paradigm Shift" first appeared in 2008 on Jazz in the Garden, a
trio disc with drummer Lenny White and pianist Hiromi. The bassist
penned the composition to commemorate the election of President Barack
Obama, the United States' first African-American president.
Considering the collective
prestige each trio member has in the electric jazz realm, the communal
empathy and at times, the sizzling interactions demonstrated on D-STRINGZ
will undoubtedly attract a wide spectrum of music fans. Hopefully these
three iconic jazz figures will reunite for yet another rewarding
rendezvous - this time, more sooner than later.
About Verve Music Group
Verve is Universal Music
Group's American contemporary label with an active artist roster that
includes Andrea Bocelli, Diana Krall, Mark Knopfler, Ledisi, Dirty
Loops, Sarah McLachlan, Yuna and Barry Manilow, to name a few. David
Foster, a 16-time Grammy® Award-winning producer, has served as Verve's
Chairman since 2012. When Verve was founded in 1956, the label made a
name for itself as the home of jazz legends including Ella Fitzgerald,
Bill Evans, Nina Simone, Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz and Billie Holiday.
Verve also controls the catalog of the legendary Impulse! Records,
amongst many others.