It was the collision of two worlds that brought the AndersonPonty Band to Montreal, as the team up of British prog rock (with ex-Yes singer Jon Anderson) and the jazz violin of French virtuoso Jean-Luc Ponty played a nearly 3-hour set of their re-imagined respective songs. There are many ways to listen to music: sometimes you listen with your guts, sometimes with your brain, sometimes with your heart. For an evening, we were treated to music for our souls.
The concert mixed re-arranged Yes classics with new material (first heard on their “Better Late Than Never” album) as well as Ponty compositions sporting new Anderson vocals. Songs took on a new life with the additions and changes, sometimes staying close to the originals (“Owner of a Lonely Heart”), sometimes pushing the arrangements in new directions (“Long Distance Runaround”). Jean-Luc Ponty’s violin never seems out-of-place over the Anderson material, and the 73-year old musician showed all night long that he’s as much a disciple of Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane as of Niccolo Paganini. Likewise, adding vocals to Ponty’s material seems a natural (although I’ll admit being less familiar with the source) and the result is a hybrid of prog, folk, jazz and rock. “Time and a Word” became a wonderful reggae song (“In 1969 I went to Jamaica. I don’t remember much, I must have had a great time” quipped Anderson) that included a snippet of The Beatles’ “She Loves You” and ended as Bob Marley’s “One Love”.
A few times Anderson left the stage to Ponty, and the violinist used the opportunity to break out his jazziest licks; “Jig” was a particularly strong moment of the concert. Each musician took their turn doing instrumental solos, and drummer Rayford Griffin’s performance was particularly spectacular. I’m highly critical of indulgent drum solos (I once named them as one of 7 rock concert sins) but this one deserved every second it got. Every musician was spot on and played for the songs, never to show off.
Anderson and Ponty have a great camaraderie on stage, playfully teasing each other on the proper pronunciation of “Renaissance”, which became “Renaissance of the Sun” with its new vocals. Ponty and Anderson took turns addressing the crowd, the violinist doing so in French of course. But he mostly let his violin do the talking, and oh did it speak.
“Enigmatic Ocean” was another highpoint, along with a reworked “And You and I”. The show concluded with “Roundabout”, showing the band could rock too and getting the crowd to its feet. The band finished with an encore of “Re-Remembering Molecules” (with a section of “Yours is No Disgrace” thrown in for good measure) and “Soon”.
Anderson’s still a hippie at heart, talking about love and humans as infinite beings with immortal souls. In this cynical world we live in, it’s easy to dismiss such sentiments as naïve and trite. But really, what we need is more people like him. And we need cynical people to listen to some AndersonPonty; it’s good for the heart and soul. And we definitely need more of that in our world.
It was a magnificent concert, with fantastic musicians. I’m really looking forward to new material from the pair.