It is not by accident that promising music re-releases Don “Sugarcane” Harris’ recording “Cup Full Of Dreams” and Jean-Luc Ponty’s “Open Strings” simultaneously. There are good reasons to believe that those two giants were and still are the greatest jazz violinists of all times and with their 1972/73 albums each of them is captured at his artistic climax. Furthermore they took some steps of their career together. As Harris did Ponty play on Frank Zappa’s album “Hot Rats” and as his US counterpart he also was a part of the of the New Violin Summit at the Berliner Jazztage 1971.
But in contrast to his US colleague it was on Atlantic Records that Ponty would enjoy his massive breakthrough with the album “Upon The Wings Of Music”. His MPS output “Open Strings” was recorded three years earlier and shows him with a young band who had just been playing together for one year. The Experience were still fresh and hot in fathoming all their musical possibilities. Whereas Harris’ ruled the kingdom of spontaneous jams in bluesrock and jazz, the target of Ponty and his colleagues rather was how pop and free jazz could be united.
It was Joachim Kühn who was first and foremost responsible for these exciting explorations. The piano player from East Germany had settled in Paris and joined The Experience to add some freedom to Ponty’s musical universe which by the way already had been infected by vanguard vocabulary through a teamwork with Wolfgang Dauner (“Free Action”, promising music CD 441052) before. Another “freedom colour” is created by drummer Oliver Johnson of San Francisco, experienced through collaborations with Denny Zeitlin and Bobby Hutcherson. Anglo-Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine was the ideal cast for Ponty in his ability to build bridges between rock and jazz whereas bassist Peter Warren added another perspective grounded in his classical formation.
The three part suite Flipping, a great success during the Berliner Jazztage, starts with a heavy ostinato on the piano allowing Ponty to develop inspired phrases on the lower strings. Soon the musicians slide into a free form, with collective improvisation by the whole Experience leading to a pensive dialogue by Ponty and Kühn and a rather rough interaction of pizzicato and rock guitar. The title track indeed starts with “open strings” on all violin, bass and guitar – again creating a free mood which is continued by Kühn. The latter finally urges the ensemble into another elaborated impro by the whole band. “Sad Ballad” closes the recording – the title seems to be rather traditional but Ponty’s melancholic lines are interspersed by a collective outburst, a thrilling cry of pain.
Being the last European release by Ponty who then moved to the US, played with Zappa and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and decided to move on to the jazzrock field this recording remains a unique gem in his curriculum.