[Review] Jean-Luc Ponty: Enigmatic Ocean (1977)

On a scale of 1 to 10, this Ocean’s an eleven.

Kronomyth 10.0: Two suites for an ocean voyage.

After stints with Zappa and Mahavishnu, Ponty began making his own prog/fusion albums, infusing his muse with a revolving stable of young studs (Patrice Rushen, Daryl Stuermer, Marc Craney, etc.). For Enigmatic Ocean, Ponty added a new rhythm section—Ralphe Armstrong on bass, Steve Smith on drums—and invited the brilliant Allan Holdsworth to join them as a sort of genius in residence. The result is pure magic and probably the best thing Ponty has ever done.

Mahavishnu alumni Armstrong is absolutely amazing; for a thrill, fast-forward to his solo on the last cut, “The Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea, Part III.” Steve Smith, like Craney before him a recent Berklee grad, has a light and lithe touch beyond his years (his introduction on “Nostalgic Lady” is the very essence of class). Holdsworth is, of course, stunning in any setting, but what surprised me is how well he and Stuermer work together. Ponty albums in the past have rarely accorded enough space for the guitar, yet the two-guitar arrangements work perfectly, perhaps because Holdsworth’s unique sound moves so gracefully between the voices of electric guitar, keyboards and violin.

Unlike his previous Atlantic records, Enigmatic Ocean is a consistent journey from beginning to end. There are no solo violin pieces, no space interludes, just full-on fusion with a brief Overture in the beginning to dip your toe into the Ocean. This may also be the most balanced of Ponty’s albums, since its greatness doesn’t depend on the novelty of the electric violin. It’s the quality of the music and musicianship that makes this a great album; the fact that it features the electric violin is almost irrelevant. If you’re looking to get lost in the music of Jean-Luc Ponty for forty minutes, you and Enigmatic Ocean should get along swimmingly.

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Original LP Version

A1. Overture (0:47)
A2. The Trans-Love Express (3:56)
A3. Mirage (4:51)
A4. Enigmatic Ocean, Part I (2:20)
A5. Enigmatic Ocean, Part II (3:35)
A6. Enigmatic Ocean, Part III (3:43)
A7. Enigmatic Ocean, Part IV (2:24)
B1. Nostalgic Lady (5:20)
B2. The Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea, Part I (3:32)
B3. The Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea, Part II (3:33)
B4. The Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea, Part III (6:05)

All music composed, orchestrated and conducted by Jean-Luc Ponty.

The Players

Jean-Luc Ponty (electric violin, five-string electric violin, violectra, bells, grand piano on B1), Ralphe Armstrong (electric basses, fretless bass on B1), Allan Holdsworth (lead electric guitar), Steve Smith (drums and percussion), Daryl Stuermer (lead and rhythm electric guitar), Allan Zavod (organ, synthesizer, electric piano, grand piano, clavinet). Produced by Jean-Luc Ponty; engineered by Larry Hirsch; tape handler: Mitch Gibson.

The Pictures

Front cover photo by Andy Kent/Mirage. Liner photo by Frank Moscati.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track in September 1977 in the US and Australia (Atlantic, SD/CS/TP 19110), the UK (Atlantic, K 50409), Canada (Atlantic, KSD 19110) and Germany (Atlantic, ATL-50409); reached #35 on the US charts and #1 on the US Jazz charts. 8-track features different track order.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1987 in the US (Atlantic, 19110-2).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in Japan (Atlantic, AMCY-2094).
  3. Re-packaged with Upon the Wings of Music, Aurora, Imaginary Voyage and Cosmic Messenger on 5CD set in 2012 in the US (Rhino).

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