Natalie Brown Debuts
Mirage Jean-Luc Ponty Project
Article by Ric Holmquest
Photo by Laurel Henshaw
A musical vision encompassing two years of planning, personnel selection, and practice will come together when Natalie Brown launches her new musical vehicle called Mirage: Jean-Luc Ponty Project at Parlor City Pub and Eatery 1125 3rd St. S.E. Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Sunday, May 18, 2014 from 6-10 p.m.
Mirage is a Jean-Luc Ponty tribute band, laying down an instrumental oriented fusion of musical styles including, salsa, funk, and Celtic all on a bed of jazz blues grooves. Natalie points out, “there aren’t too many violin-driven bands around or at least bands where the violin is an equal to the other instruments. The fluidity of styles, funk, jazz, and the combination of instruments create a unique texture and interplay.”
Brown’s brainchild features her amazing violin, Ryan Phelan’s guitar, Richard Wagor’s bass, Luke Viertel’s keyboards with Jon Wilson behind the drum kit. Her band was hand picked and is a virtual who’s who of regional talent, each bringing a wealth of experience and creativity to the new project. Of her talented guitarist Phelan, Brown notes, “He’s laid back, takes suggestions well, picks it right up and is easy to work with.”
According to Natalie, “Richard Wagor is extremely versatile on both string and electric bass. We both went to the Preucil School of Music so we’ve known each other for many years and have worked on several projects together. Jon Wilson listens and plays along with a melody better than any drummer I have worked with. He’s a dynamic drummer. Luke Viertel is great at improvising, this music is very keyboard focused, as if Ponty were kind of floating over it. It’s challenging stuff and everyone has definitely done their homework for the Ponty Project. ”
Jean-Luc Ponty was born in France, into a family of classical musicians. His father taught violin and his mother taught piano. While a member of Concerts Lamoureux in Paris, Ponty picked up a side gig, playing clarinet for a college jazz band. Becoming aware of the jazz greats Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Ponty added the saxophone to his list of accomplishments. He would later be widely regarded as the leading figure in jazz fiddle.
Ponty released his first solo album, Jazz Long Playing, in 1964, at the age of 22. His 1967 performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival lead to his first U.S. recording contract on the World Pacific label. Ponty’s remarkable career includes collaborations with jazz superstars John McLaughlin, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke, Bela Fleck and Return to Forever.
Mirage will be playing Ponty classics such as “New Country,” “Mirage,” “Imaginary Voyage” and Ponty collaborations like Zappa’s “King Kong” and “Eat That Question.” Mirage will also feature new Ponty material from Atacama Experience and Ponty-influenced fusion-jazzy-funk new creations. The project will cover artists such as Frank Zappa, Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, and Garaj Mahal, with originals that Natalie, Ryan and Richard have contributed.
One wonders how she does it all. Natalie is a dynamic performer, a sought-after studio musician and band member, skilled educator, and is highly involved in all things music at a number of levels throughout Eastern Iowa. Recently celebrating her ten-year anniversary teaching Orchestra and Alternative Strings at Washington High School, Natalie teaches strings techniques at Coe College and hosts the Eastern Iowa Folk Club on the first Monday of each month at CSPS from 7-9pm.
She also shares the stage with Craig Erickson’s Planet Pluto, the Mayflies, the Feralings, adds keyboards to the Grateful Dead tribute band Winterland, and performs as a duo with Gayla Drake. Summer plans include performing at the National Women’s Music Festival, Friday Night Concert Series, Jazz Under the Stars, and a research presentation in Scotland. Natalie explains, “I like being really involved. Variety is important to me and keeps me inspired.”
Of the opportunity to feature her new project at Parlor City Pub, Natalie shares, “It’s my favorite place to play. I have played there so many times, it’s like my headquarters. I love to take in the Sunday shows when possible and enjoy all the different music being featured there.”