JJ 05/71: Jean Luc Ponty, Mike Westbrook at Scott’s

Fifty years ago Barry McRae thought the swinging Ponty hampered by a jazz-rock rhythm section but saw no problems in a Westbrook band featuring Paul Rutherford. First published in Jazz Journal May 1971

Jean-Luc Ponty

A well-balanced programme at The Ronnie Scott Club featured Jean Luc Ponty and Mike Westbrook with Norma Winstone. I suppose I might be accused of chauvinism for saying so, but it was the British unit that was the most impressive. Ponty is a very fine violinist, who achieves a hot sound on his electric instrument. He swings with consummate ease and shapes his solo with seemingly premeditated care. He is, however, a player of licks; a man that uses phrases that crop up, not only regularly, but to resolve similar melodic situations.

At Scott’s he was further hampered by a group (albeit his normal one) that flirted with the rock/jazz fusion idea and provided a heavy background of doubtful advantage to a player of Ponty’s buoyancy and attack. As individuals they were better and their potential was evident despite a suggestion of duplication from the electric piano of Joachim Kuhn and the guitar of Philip Catherine.

No such criticism could apply to Westbrook, whose choice of material was extremely varied. On the night I went, Paul Rutherford was standing in for Malcolm Griffiths, and several members of the band were feeling below par. This was not reflected in the music, however, and the band went through a selection of the leader’s originals and even included a stimulat­ing Cockney version of Mood Indigo by Norma Winstone.

George Kahn soloed with his usual wit and imagination, while Rutherford showed why he was so highly rated in recent international polls. He is currently making more sparing use of his magnificent low register but his facility is always turned to the needs of his creative process rather than to glib technical displays. Alan Jackson remains the most ideal drummer for this group and bassist Chris Lawrence seems to be leaving his pop past further and further behind.