Happy 35th: Jean Luc Ponty, Civilized Evil
35 years ago today, Jean-Luc Ponty released his first album of his third decade of recording, an effort which once again found him taking a top-five placement on Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart.
We’ll kick things off with the quick caveat that Wikipedia suggests that Civilized Evil was actually released in September 1980, but all things being equal, we tend to trust AllMusic’s researchers, so if they say it came out on July6, 1980, that’s what we’re taking as the truth. Either way, this year still marks the 35th anniversary of the album, so it’s still worthy of celebration.
Having released his debut album, Jazz Long Playing, in 1964, Ponty’s presence on the jazz scene had long been established by the time he released Civilized Evil, but he’d also begun making headway with mainstream audiences as well, a situation no doubt aided by having contributed to several Frank Zappa albums and even Elton John’s Honky Chateau.
That said, Civilized Evil wasn’t necessarily the most groundbreaking of Ponty’s efforts. His jazz-fusion stylings were still as strong as ever, of course, but one might readily argue that he was going to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” well by hewing a bit too close to the same sound that he’d been mining since his classic 1977 album, Enigmatic Ocean. Great sound though it may have been, with “Forms of Life” and “Once a Blue Planet” shining through as particularly strong tracks, the overall endeavor wasn’t giving Ponty the opportunity to step very far outside of the box, thereby limiting the amount of creativity on display.
It would be a few years before Ponty finally made a move that felt like a true creative shift with 1983’s Individual Choice, but taken on its own merits rather than in a historical context, Civilized Evil is – even 35 years on – still a solid album and makes for an enjoyable listen.