May 1, 2016
Grove of Anaheim
Review by Shawn Perry
In the eight years since he was unceremoniously dismissed from Yes, singer Jon Anderson has bounced back time and time again. He has collaborated on recording projects with Rick Wakeman, Mike Oldfield and Stefan Podell, played solo shows, even started a band with Jean-Luc Ponty.
It is with AndersonPonty Band, as it is called, where the singer has really held his own as a musician and spiritual guide. As I witnessed when they came to Anaheim, AndersonPonty Band is not a mere vehicle for Jon Anderson and Jean-Luc Ponty — it is a real band of top-of the-line players who breathe new life into the Yes material, as well as the arrangements of Ponty’s music, enhanced by Anderson’s lyrics and ethereal voice.
As a collective, there’s an unshakable chemistry, tight and taunt at every turn, refreshing the familiar with sublime, subtle strokes of top-shelf musicianship. Over the course of the two hour performance, guitarist Jamie Glaser, keyboardist Wally Minko, bassist Keith Jones and drummer Rayford Griffin each took the spotlight to show off their chops. Being able to push the music, especially the Yes tracks, with a heightened sensibility of fusion-like finesse, allowed Anderson and Ponty to operate and interact on an almost telepathic level.
The group stuck to the script as far as their choice of songs, which replicated the set list from the live 2015 release Better Late Than Never. A short intro preceded “One In The Rhythm Of Hope,” the first of many Anderson-Ponty pieces at the basis of the project. What you notice immediately is the blend of Anderson’s voice with Ponty’s violin. It’s truly a sound to behold. Then you add the other musicians to the mix, and it‘s as if the players meld into one.
Obviously, a good portion of the crowd was there to hear Yes songs and they weren’t disappointed. “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” rolled through at a lighter pace and wound up with a slinky and sly solo from Ponty. A playful, reggae-bounce given to “Time And A Word” put the song in a whole new light, while jazzier overtones, spearheaded by Minko’s meticulous piano work, brought “Wonderous Stories” to a smooth and comfy shine.
Each song gave Anderson an opportunity to vocally roam with the melodies, while opening passageways for Ponty to flavor the solos beyond the all-ready high standards set by the likes of Steve Howe, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman. When he wasn’t singing, Anderson stayed in the groove playing a customized, exotic-looking MIDI-equipped backpacker guitar with a scroll from a viola, plus percussion instruments. At those intervals, Ponty would step up with his blue violin, stroke the strings and glide through verses. For the edgier parts, Glaser was there with a flurry of leads to meet the expected quota.
The band really rose on the Anderson-Ponty compositions “Listening With Me,” “Infinite Mirage” and “Renaissance Of The Sun.” Here is where their full potential came to the fore — intricate enough to capture the imagination; structured and melodically friendly for Anderson to seamlessly add words where none existed before.
The camaraderie between Anderson and Ponty on the Grove stage was infectious, bordering on shtick at times when the violinist playfully raised his brow and bow toward the singer after a good-natured rib or two. For the most part, there was a non-stop flow of respect. “He’s my brother from another mother,” Anderson motioned to Ponty at one point. Before the night ended, the singer spoke about another brother from his past. “Almost every day, I think about Chris Squire,” he announced before dedicating an epic version of “And You And I” to the late Yes bassist.
Speculation ran high in the aftermath of Squire’s 2015 passing that Anderson would rejoin Yes. In the wake of AndersonPonty Band, and a another group in the works with Rabin and Wakeman, the only thing missing from Anderson's life is an invite to Cruise To The Edge. At this point in time, it would all make perfect sense.