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Jean-Luc Ponty - Enigmatic Ocean CD (album) cover

ENIGMATIC OCEAN

Jean-Luc Ponty

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.29 | 210 ratings

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Peter
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars In 1977, French jazz fusion violinist par excellence Jean Luc Ponty released his outstanding ENIGMATIC OCEAN. With some ten or eleven albums already behind him, and having lent his bowed magic to influential innovators like Frank Zappa, John Mclaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, and others, Ponty was a seasoned veteran -- a true musician's musician.

With his impressive résumé, the violinist was easily able to attract a stellar group to join him for his latest solo outing. ENIGMATIC OCEAN features a peerless cast: keyboard wizard Allan Zavod was a one-time Berklee professor of music who'd been discovered by none other than Duke Ellington, and had played in the bands of jazz greats such as Glen Miller, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson and Cab Calloway. Electric guitar virtuoso Allan Holdsworth had been a notable figure on the early British progressive scene, including stints with Tempest, Soft Machine and Gong. Holdsworth had also played for none less than Tony Williams (ex Miles Davis), one of the most famous and respected jazz drummers ever. (Soon after his work with Ponty, Holdsworth would go on to play on Bill Bruford's first solo album, FEELS GOOD TO ME, then join UK, for that prog all-star act's eponymous debut.) Second guitarist, American Daryl Stuermer (who'd go on to serve in Genesis' live shows), had successfully auditioned for Ponty two years previously, and had already played on the violinist's AURORA and IMAGINARY VOYAGE albums, as well as on two recordings with keyboardist George Duke (another Zappa and Ponty alumnus). Meanwhile, American bassist Ralphe Armstrong had joined the Mahavishnu Orchestra at the tender age of seventeen, cutting his musical teeth in that pioneering fusion act from 1973 to 1975. (Armstrong also had a Zappa connection, having played on stage with Frank in '75 and '76.) Finally, drummer Steve Smith was, like Zavod, a former Berklee student, had played in jazz big bands, and previously toured with Ponty. (Smith would later join Journey, and serve as much-sought session drummer for a long list of top-name pop and rock acts. In addition, Modern Drummer magazine devotees would vote him the #1 All-Around Drummer five years in succession and one of the Top 25 Drummers of All Time.)

With musicians like these on board, it's hardly surprising that ENIGMATIC OCEAN features flawless playing and utterly fluid transitions and interplay. Still, it is the complex, lovely and uplifting music itself which makes this recording such a sheer delight, and an album to revisit again and again. It starts with a brief introductory "Overture," followed by two excellent 4 and 5-minute pieces: "The Trans-Love Express" is a fast-paced workout with funky percolating bass, spot-on drum and cymbal work from Smith, an impressive Stuermer solo, and blinding violin from Ponty. "Mirage" is more stately. The bass chugs along nicely, but it is Zavod's electric keyboards which especially shine here. Next is the first of the albums two longer suites: "Enigmatic Ocean" is a wonder: a four-part epic of multiple moods, scintillating solos, infectious themes and ever-engaging writing. (Holdworth's trademark, effortlessly-soaring lead is a standout.) This is 70s fusion at its finest! The next offering, the graceful "Nostalgic Lady," is another winner, with tasteful fretless bass and slower violin providing a soothing respite from the prevailing intensity. Finally, the album concludes on a brilliant high with its second suite, the 13-plus minutes, three-part "The Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea" which easily rivals the title set for jaw-dropping displays of masterful musicianship from all players. (Armstrong and Holdsworth particularly distinguish themselves.) Again, there are memorable intertwining themes and hooks aplenty. This is fantastic listening on a grand scale!

Thus, Jean Luc Ponty's ENIGMATIC OCEAN remains one of my favourite CDs. It is a landmark work of 70s fusion and its maker's unquestionable masterpiece. Amazing stuff, brilliantly written, played and recorded -- an absolute aural feast for progressive music fans!

Peter | 5/5 |

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