Danish-born violinist Mads Tolling, a longtime member of both the Stanley Clarke Group and the Turtle Island Quartet, pays tribute to one of his heroes on this live recording from Oakland’s Yoshi’s nightclub. Joined by the explosive electric guitarist Mike Abraham, electric bassist George Ban-Weiss and highly disciplined drummer Eric Garland, Tolling covers a wide range of music associated with Ponty-from the John McLaughlin-penned Mahavishnu Orchestra number “Lila’s Dance,” to Clarke’s alternately beautiful and percolating “Song to John,” to a fresh reggae-fied take on Ponty’s catchy jazz-rock hoedown “New Country,” a radio hit back in 1976.
Like Ponty, Tolling is a conservatory-trained jazz violinist. And while he is adept at capturing all the excitement of fusion fare like Ponty’s blazing, suite-like “Enigmatic Ocean” and the chops-busting “Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea,” he is also comfortable stretching out in a more subdued, straight-ahead jazz setting, as on the group’s rendition of Cannonball Adderley’s “Old Country.” Tolling’s virtuosic solo reading of Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice” is a grand achievement here.
Other highlights include the quartet’s reading of Frank Zappa’s odd-metered workout “King Kong,” originally written for Ponty and George Duke in 1970, along with faithful interpretations of Ponty’s “Bowing-Bowing” and “Last Memories of Her” and Tolling’s ode to his mentor, “Pontyfication,” which deftly incorporates some of the elder’s vocabulary into the fabric of the original piece.