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

ENIGMATIC OCEAN

Jean-Luc Ponty

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.26 | 216 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Crossover Team
5 stars I have been reserving this review at great personal cost to my sanity which kept threatening me with shutdown. "Enigmatic Ocean" ranks as a perennial favorite in my top 10, and it will never waver away. This is music in its finest configuration and being a bass enthusiast, I cannot find a more glorious figure in 4 string Progland, Squire, Clarke and Levin be quiet! Ralphe Armstrong epitomizes what this devilish instrument should be played like in an instrumental setting, with a simple tone and a devastating technique that just hauls the rest down the highway! Fluid and explosive, funky and jazzy, deliberate and daring, Armstrong simply shines (I saw him live in red jumpers, he was bewitching in front of 60,000 witnesses opening for Supertramp in Montreal, way back when), bopping wildly in the process only to intensify the bond between body and mind. Truly exemplary throughout this splendid disc in particular, hence I suggest newbie fans to maximize their pleasure by listening mainly to the bass guitar as they explore this album the first time. What a ride you are in for, OMG! Hey, I have done so many times I never get sick of this puppy! A fusion-jazz-hybrid that simply cooks non-stop, fueling barely restrained passions, immense technical abilities and just groovin', baby! Swirling free-for-all is perhaps the best way to describe this genial music, it's positively upbeat and riveting!

Then, we get to the nasty stuff, with ex-Soft Machine guitarist Allen Holdsworth showing off his remarkable style, the man is sick with talent, going into oblique guitar tangents one couldn't even fathom, let alone reproduce. I caught myself a few times nervously gigging at his licks, head-spinning technique. Then having the audacity to let Ponty rip on the violin, it's just added gravy! Steve Smith of future Journey fame explains why he is so highly rated by both rock and jazz purists! The man shuffles instinctively and with brawn! The Aussie wizard Alan Zavod is perhaps the most underrated keyboard player in prog, the guy plays like no other with crisp and ornate coexisting on a variety of ivories and synths. Lastly, future Genesis guitarist Darryl Stuermer shows off his talent, a proper foil for the crazy Brit while he is soloing his brains out as if imprisoned inside a tornado.

"Overture" does exactly what the title implies, a proper table setting with a bright candle promptly lit, fine instrumental linen, a violin napkin and all the cutlery one could hope for. Shimmering and very much an awakening, the Ponty voyage begins, well-propelled and shiny. "The Trans-Love Express" gets things cranking, 'bedibeep' rhythm with the Stuermer guitars raging with a wicked solo and the soaring violin, this is where you notice Armstrong's bubbly undertone. It looms, dances and explodes all over the bass, sideways and ahead, a rare combination that the man pulls off with apparent impunity. This is so good, it's frightful! You follow up this rambler with his classic "Mirage", probably his most well-known tune and you just know the rest will be just a breeze of utter beauty. Shifting like the windswept dunes, the shiny rhythm just sways as if caressed by the gale, searing violins howling at the sun and warm rays of joy glimmer in every direction. Its sensual, bold and exciting, with tremendous ability to go around, Smith and Zavod just killing it in a sublime solo while Ponty and Armstrong add their own solid imprint on the psyche. This is just so unconceivably tasty music. Then we have the masterful 4 part opus, "Enignatic Ocean" remains Ponty's crowning achievement, never to be outdone later, a compelling 12 minute epic in the true sense of the word, a progressive rock approach to jazz that simply beefs it all up with spectacular sounds. I mean Part 2 is simply ridiculous, the speed and precision is beyond comprehension, easily surpassing the legendary Return to Forever's playing, this becomes solo-land with Ponty, Stuermer, Zavod and Holdsworth exchanging furious salvos, while the rhythm section keeps things at a blistering pace. Ridiculous! Then Part 3, revs up the funk as well as the experimentalism, with a tortured Holdsworth in full screeching regalia, only then will Jean-Luc unleash one for the ages. Need I say, Armstrong is blasting all over the low end with some dazzling runs, Smith holding up the artillery? Yeah, ridiculous and absurd! "Nostalgic Lady" is where things get a tad more classical jazz-rock, flush with resonating rhythms and that darn bass maniac/magician, channeling both Ponty and Holdsworth to even loftier heights , both pulling off masterful solos, two minds fused as one in pursuit of the aural nirvana. Words cannot give this piece justice, as its more sheer brilliance. 'Piece de resistance, mais oui mon cher Jean-Luc' is what we get with the over-the-top three part "The Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea" festival and you must be properly anesthetized because what's coming up now is, well?. Another dozen minutes or so of archetypal musical fusion with so much illustrious artistic expression on display, all seemingly effortless. The 3 part suite serves also as a platform for all out soloing, slithering playing by all highlighted by a masterful Zavod synth anguish (Part1) and Ponty's raging catscratcher, here a hollow body Barcus-Berry electric violin (on Part 2). But it's the final section that ultimately slays the beast with Ralphe's glorious solo (straightforward and with devices) which is just as exquisite as his "Egocentric Molecules" assault on the next "Cosmic Messenger" album, a screaming Stuermer volley followed by a Smith percussive spotlight. Who else but Holdsworth to put the turtle in the water, free at last?!

This album is a must have, you have no worthy collection if this one isn't on the mantle. It's currently sitting comfortably in my # 3 spot.

5 Puzzling Seas

tszirmay | 5/5 |

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