Maybe it's my hometown pride coming to the surface, but guitarist Jimmy Ponder's attributes are comparable to his native Pittsburgh. Both can get overlooked in favor of flashier cities and players, and both show a lot of tradition for well-entrenched styles. But Ponder reminds listeners of the harmonic reasons why the guitar-organ-drums trio hasn't gone the way of the steel mills.
Recorded three years ago but only recently open to the public, What's New puts Ponder's guitar in the company of organist Gene Ludwig and drummer Cecil Brooks III. The song titles look familiar, but the arrangements and performances offer surprises. The trio plays "God Bless the Child" at a quick tempo that still leaves plenty of room for Ponder to add some bluesy licks. "What's New" gets a samba update, which inspires Ludwig, an unsung B3 master, to quote "Summer Samba" in his solo.
Ponder plays in top form throughout. From the opening blues "TNT" to the slow, sensual "Besame Mucho," he can play just a few notes or lock into some octave licks, and either way, he has your undivided attention. If only the same could be said about his hometown.