AndersonPonty Band: Better Late Than Never

Much-anticipated collaboration reinvigorates its two legends.

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Georgia O’Keefe once declared that singing, not painting, was the most perfect, spontaneous means of expression - “and after that, the violin”. She’d have loved this: a celebration of the euphoric, exploratory possibilities of Jon Anderson’s voice and Jean-Luc Ponty’s violin. With a superb band anchoring the starship, they offer some new material plus reworkings of jewels from their pasts, and that of Yes.

There are surprises: most, though not all, are good. It’s unlikely, for example, that Anderson’s cod-reggae direction will stick, but elsewhere, the marriage of that chirruping, optimistic voice and Ponty’s elegantly emotional violin is a fusion made just south of heaven.

Recorded live in Aspen, Colorado last September, it doesn’t feel like a live album, partly because it’s been ‘enhanced’ in post-production. But that’s okay. There are infrequent bursts of applause, and Anderson’s energy is infectious, but it carries itself like a studio album. The title acknowledges that the pair first mooted working together in the 70s: Ponty was playing with Anderson’s favourites the Mahavishnu Orchestra, sharing a US bill with Yes. More recently, Anderson asked Ponty to contribute a solo to a piece, and one thing led to another. The singer started scatting over some of Ponty’s major works. The pair’s ideas jelled.

This album is made with love, which shines through.

You can sense the easy fluidity best on Renaissance Of The Sun. Ponty pioneers its plaintive pull, soloing sublimely over the band’s lazy groove and Wally Minko’s piano before Anderson comes in with the very ‘him’ lyrics: ‘You are the ocean wave, spinning around the ancient sky.’ It glides along, feeling more loose, flexible and natural than anything either’s done in years. Equally successful are Infinite Mirage and the glistening Listening With Me. These exude atmosphere without getting weighed down by portent. A For Aria is lively; I See You Messenger is a curious/clumsy rewiring of the Byrds number from Yes’ debut album.

Ah, those Yes numbers. Well, Owner Of A Lonely Heart is bubbly, but Time And A Word collapses in the ‘Jamaican’ arrangement Anderson has adopted live in recent years. It’s not that this capable group can’t play reggae, it’s just that it’s bonkers and incongruous for them to do so, especially as Anderson ad libs into karaoke snippets of The Beatles and Bacharach. Wonderous Stories is delicate, And You And I is airy and Roundabout is robust. Perhaps the surprise standout is New New World (from Anderson’s 2011 solo album), which encapsulates the sunny, surging-free spirit of this happy endeavour. It’s made with love, which shines through.

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.