Jimmy Ponder: Alone

Jimmy Ponder has appeared on more than 100 albums, mainly in combo settings with a pronounced soul/blues base or on straightahead blowing dates. He’s not exactly a name anyone would expect to cut a solo session; more surprising, Alone (High Note) proves an ideal showcase for Ponder to display considerable skills and overall guitar acumen. Ponder doesn’t get fancy or intricate; his melodic readings on “Midnight Mood,” “Lullaby of Birdland” or “Our Day Will Come” are delivered without excess, with each solo carefully built and executed with precision. The disc’s primary weakness is thematic. While it’s good to see jazz musicians improvising on contemporary standards, the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David (“Windows of the World”) just isn’t that interesting in stripped-down instrumental fashion rather than being marvelously sung by Dionne Warwick. And “Isn’t She Lovely” doesn’t rank among Stevie Wonder’s all-time greatest pieces. But Ponder hasn’t aimed this disc at guitar mavens anyhow, and he’s not trying to impress anyone with incredible playing displays. Still, there’s enough embellishments, subtle harmonic adjustments and moments of sizzling playing to dispel any doubts that Ponder deserves an 11-song solo project. Though my personal preference in hearing Ponder’s music remains with groups, especially his work with Hank Crawford, Alone serves as a nice alternative to his customary efforts.