Smitty: When you talk about music legends and international musicians that are recognized around the world, you have to include my next guest. He has created a splendid new CD that makes an emphatic statement of what real music is all about. It is called The Acatama Experience. Please welcome the incredible and amazing Mr. Jean Luc Ponty. Jean Luc, how ya doin’, my friend?
Jean Luc Ponty (JLP): Hello, I’m doing very good, thank you.
Smitty: All right. You have covered the world with your music experience and you shared it with us with this great record because it has such international appeal and such great vibes. I just love this new record.
JLP: Thanks a lot, thank you.
Smitty: And what great musicians. Guy Nsangue Akwa…
Smitty: William Lecomte…
JLP: Yeah, they have been with me for quite a while, especially Guy Nsangue, who is from West Africa, and he’s really a unique player. I mean, there are a lot of great players in the world, but he’s definitely one of them. And by playing together for so many years, and there are so many different circumstances, sometimes great ones, sometimes great conditions, sometimes it’s more difficult when you tour around the world for 15 years together, so you achieve a tightness as a band, we communicate so well. The interaction is really, really good and tight, so that’s why it feels good to record with these musicians in the studio.
Smitty: Yes indeed, and you’ve got some very special guests with Allan Holdsworth and Philip Catherine.
Smitty: Wow, what incredible players.
JLP: Yes. Well, Philip Catherine lives in Europe. He’s half British, half Belgian, which means he speaks half English, half French, and he started his career in my band in 1970, my European band, the last European band I had before I moved to America. He was just starting and that was his first gig being in my band. And he became one of the top jazz guitar players in Europe. He has a very strong musical personality, so that’s why it was very special for me because I’ve lived in the States for so long that we were disconnected for a long time, so this is kind of a reunion, so that’s why it was very special and emotional for me to have him on this record.
JLP: And Allan Holdsworth, you know, he’s, for me, a master of the guitar and such a talent. He has collaborated on some of my albums before, but this time, to me, it tops all his past collaborations for me. The solo he’s doing on this album is just unbelievable.
Smitty: Yes, absolutely, man, and speaking of solos, man, “Desert Crossing,” what a solo you did on that tune. Wow!
JLP: (Laughs.) Thanks. Well, you know, it started by touring in acoustic trios with Stanley Clarke and Al DiMeola, and then again two years ago with Bela Fleck, and I was forced to play the acoustic violin, and then these guys are great soloists and they each do a solo, so I had to jump into the water and do a solo myself, and on the violin it was really something I was feeling before because there are so many great classical violinists and if you do a solo it can get to be close to that, so I was reluctant to do that for many years, but finally ideas started to grow in my mind about how to come up with a solo so I did it but it took a lot of courage, you know, almost as crossing a desert for me (both laugh) to dare record a violin solo unaccompanied and acoustically, so this is the first time I do that.
Smitty: Yes, but, man, what a treat. That was just invigorating. And I just want to say this for the fans out there: you’ve got to hear this solo on this record. It’s just unbelievable. Wow!
JLP: (Laughs.) Thank you. I’m glad you like it.
Smitty: Yes indeed. We love to hear that. Well, talk about how you got into this whole Atacama Experience.
JLP: Well, it was not planned to be an album which would be covering or being influenced by so many different places around the world. It’s like if you start writing a story, you start writing a book and you have the seeds of the beginning of the story but you don’t know in advance where it’s going to lead you, and that’s a bit how I started to record this album. As I was starting to write music for the album, I also had a lot of concerts that were planned throughout the year between January 2006 and February 2007, in fact, I signed with Koch Records late in 2005 and we had been hired to do concerts before I knew I would have to deliver an album to Koch. So what happened is I started writing the music and I started recording with my band and then we had to leave on the road and travel to faraway places like India, Venezuela, Chile, Europe, and Russia….so it would really take me away from the recording for a little while and then I would come back to the album with, of course, fresh ears. And that was the good thing about it is that it’s like something that grew very slowly bit by bit and each time, some of the travel experience I just went through would reflect in the music somehow.