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Jean-Luc Ponty - Imaginary Voyage CD (album) cover

IMAGINARY VOYAGE

Jean-Luc Ponty

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.59 | 78 ratings

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Cygnus X-2
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Before the masterpiece of Enigmatic Ocean, Jean-Luc Ponty took us on an Imaginary Voyage. Ponty gained his notoriety in the music industry from his various stints with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, playing on records such as Hot Rats, Over-nite Sensation, Apostrophe ('), and while this album bares no resemblance to those albums, they certainly helped pave the way for the type of music Ponty was to do. While this album doesn't feature some of the stellar musicians that were on Enigmatic Ocean (although Allan Zavod of future Zappa fame and Daryl Stuermer of future Genesis fame remained on both works), the quality of the music isn't really deterred at all. In fact, the overall sound of these two albums is quite similar, although there are some key changes (mainly Holdsworth's influence on the sound was missing). While not as good as it's follow up, Imaginary Voyage is still an excellent album that has a lot of fantastic instrumental moments.

The album opens with the piece New Country, which feels more like a disco piece with a violin as the lead instrument (mainly because of the relatively simple drum pattern that has the constant bass drum beat that's common with disco). Stuermer is fantastic on this track with a fantastic acoustic guitar performance, and his exchanging of solos with Ponty is quite stunning as well. It may not be the best piece on the album, but it's far from bad. The Gardens of Babylon features a fantastic bass line from Tom Fowler (of Mothers of Invention fame) that ranges from simple root notes to a beautiful counter melody underneath the steady Ponty violin melody. Allan Zavod also provides a beautiful keyboard solo showing his incredible abilities on the black and whites. Stuermer provides some more brilliant guitar play, he really shows that he can play the guitar (his work on Enigmatic Ocean was a bit subdued with Allan Holdsworth in the fold at the time). Wandering on the Milky Way is essentially a 1:50 violin solo, with Ponty utlizing echo effects and a phaser on his violin (which was a revolutionary thing at the time). Although it's mainly just noodling, I'm quite impressed with the experimentation of effects, which really makes this piece exciting.

Once Upon a Dream has a bit of an unsettling piano/guitar motif that is augmented by a main melody on the violin. Zavod provides an interesting synthesizer solo here, and it has a Zappa feel to it (and funnily enough, Zavod in the early 80s would find his way into Zappa's touring group). It's one of the weaker pieces on the album, but it's not a bad piece in the least bit. Tarantula utilizes a great unison bass/guitar melody with some blocky violin textures over it. Ponty goes off on a tangent in this piece, giving a frenetic run up and down the violin strings, also utlizing a subtle wah effect in the process. Stuermer provides arguably his best guitar performance here, hitting high speed runs and melodic interludes as well (he's a fantastic guitarist).

The album ends with the Imaginary Voyage suite, a 19 minute opus spread out over four parts. Opening with a spacious synthesizer motif, the track quickly picks up pace and has the feel of one of Bill Bruford's pieces from One of a Kind with the frenetic runs and the precision of the rhythm unit. Utilizing a frantic 7/8 melody the first part quickly evolves into a more subtle and laidback second part. Fowler is once again superb on the bass for this part and Ponty really comes into his own with his first of many precision violin solos. The second part breaks way into the third after a fantastic Zavod keyboard solo. The third part begins with an increasingly faster theme and some interesting guitar arpeggios after everything mellows out. Stuermer comes in again and offers a clean and sharp sounding guitar solo that makes good use of the frets (and he makes a few fantastic unison runs with Ponty). Although it's probably the weakest part of the suite, it still has its moments. The final part opens with a strong groove in the rhythm unit and a phaser pan offering a more mysterious aura to the mix. Throughout the rest of the piece, there are some great moments from all members, particularly that of Daryl Stuermer and Jean Luc Ponty, who mix well together and offer solo and unison runs that do nothing short of make your jaw drop. I will say, though, that the false ending towards the middle of the fourth part was a bit unneccesary and it certainly did throw the flow of the piece off. But that's just an opinion, some may actually enjoy it.

So Imaginary Voyage, how do I rate it? I think it's an excellent album that has very few things I could lower the score for. I will say, though, that some of the pieces don't exactly reach my quota of excellence, but I can't really say I dislike any piece on the album, they all have their merits and their own little interesting things about them. Although not as good as its successor, I recommend Imaginary Voyage highly to those looking for solid fusion or a great violin performance. 4.5/5.

Cygnus X-2 | 4/5 |

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