“It throws up the confounding realisation that the world’s most famous fusion violinist is au fait with drum’n’ bass”: Jean-Luc Ponty’s Life Enigma reissue

Available on vinyl for the first time, 2001 release proved he wasn’t a spent creative force despite nine years’ delay since his studio album

Jean-Luc Ponty - Life Enigma
(Image: © earMusic)

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When Jean-Luc Ponty first released Life Enigma in 2001, it had been nine years since his last studio album. Coasting on a series of ‘best of’s and live excursions, there was a suspicion that the normally prolific electronic violinist was ready to enter the pantheon and embrace his rich heritage – and there’d be no shame in that, given the heft of his musical yield up to that point.

Life Enigma isn’t a riposte, exactly; it nevertheless dispelled any suggestion that Ponty was a spent force creatively. Billed as a throwback to the Atlantic years – where the Frenchman enjoyed a roaringly successful 10-year-period between 1975 and 1985 – it’s an album that’s more forward thinking than any implication of revisiting former glories.

Ponty’s previous two records had been collaborative efforts, one with Al Di Meola and Stanley Clarke (The Rite Of Strings) and the other with a company of African musicians (No Absolute Time). Here, he’s largely solo at his own Enigmatic Studio, with longtime bandmates making guest appearances rather than coming together collectively.

Ponty programmes most of the drums and percussion himself, which throws up the confounding realisation that the world’s most famous fusion violinist is au fait with drum’n’ bass, having a decent stab at a variation on the genre on one of the record’s highlights, Signals From Planet Earth.

The Infinite Caravan brings together synthy electronics with Latin grooves, though because of the nature of recording at home, it all feels a lot more contained and intimate than the expansive 70s ever did.

Pizzy Cat, where Ponty digs out his Synclavier, gives everything an unusually hyperreal sheen. Only Firmament, the centrepiece with a full band jamming, really throws up anything overtly human, albeit virtuosic (pianist William Lecomte dazzles over his allotted bars).

Life Enigma only made it onto CD last time around; now with a full vinyl release for the first time, it benefit from the added warmth that format provides.

Life Enigma is on sale now via earMusic in multiple formats.