With this 1977 release Ponty created the ultimate fusion album, something that went WAY beyond just a perfect melding of Jazz and Rock and Classical (and a healthy if small dose of Indian music and modern music brought over from JLP's stints in Mahavishnu and Zappa's Mothers) to also strike a perfect balance into the ambient dreamy soundscapes created by people like Jean-Michel Jarre on "Oxygene," Vangelis on "L'Apocalypse des Animaux," CAN on "Future Days" & Brian Eno on "Another Green World." This strand of the multi-level fusion only a man of Ponty's ambition would even dare attempt, had already borne excellent fruits on "Imaginary Voyage" and "Aurora," two previous classics that paved the way for the perfect album to follow. By this time Ponty was well into composing in textures like a painter and instructed Alan Zavod to concentrate on creating textures and colors on his synthesizers. In fact, the synths, the guitars and the violin concentrate on laying down textures and utmost attention is paid to sound quality and tone and the feel or 'impression' derived from this. The groovy repetitive ostinato basslines (by ex-Mahavishnu hold-over Ralphe Armstrong) that became a cliche on later Ponty albums are in perfect synergistic synthesis here with the rest of the music. Just enough ambience is provided in the textures and polyrhythmic grooves to put you in just the most perfect trancelike state needed, not too sleepy, not too funky, not too jarring or spastic, setting the perfect platform for the incredible solos designed to make your dream state take-off and soar to ever-higher plateaus, culminating somewhere in outer space. The entire album is highly impressionistic and closer to prog-rock in some ways than jazz rock, prog-rock being something Ponty had direct experience with, having played on the mind-blowing "Aria" album by Alan Sorrenti in 1972 where the entire album was conceived and executed in textures of a renaissance tapestry with banshee vocals and violin blending in and out. "Enigmatic Ocean," as the title suggests, is like the soundtrack of a film that was never made, maybe even a Jacques Cousteau film, but without 1 second of down-time or let-up or 'incidental music,' every second is accounted for. Ponty could have retired after this album and still be considered a legend. No one played violin with this level of virtuosity and perfection of sound and style ever before and, with the exception of L. Subramaniam, no one has since.
Of special note on this album is the incredible playing of Daryl Steurmer on lead guitar: every solo he plays is on fire, super-intense and super-fast without losing melodic grace and tone quality in the process (even if it's just a guitar straight through an amp sound, it's still a hell of a tone and sound), McLaughlin inspired but daring to go beyond. Steurmer is so great here he even manages to upstage the genius of Allan Holdsworth as co-lead. Using only Holdsworth's more ambient-friendly sound would have been a mistake on Ponty's part because, as amazing as Holdsworth is, Ponty's band of this period absolutely required the extra balance of rock-edge Steurmer's fiery sound provides to achieve album-length shambhala.
If Steurmer's high-water mark on guitar wasn't enough, you also have drummer Steve Smith's greatest performance preserved for posterity here. Having heard the unbelievable drum solos played by Mark Craney during the previous tour on the Hamburg 76 bootleg live album, I have always wondered if Craney had not left to join Tommy Bolin's band, would "Enigmatic Ocean" be even better than it already is, maybe a little less robotic? And the closer I listened, the more I've had to shake my head, laugh and answer with a definite NO because Steve Smith's playing here might just be the most impossible-to-improve ever laid to tape, not just in its extreme technique but also its perfect integration within the sound of this band.
The perfect band with the perfect sound who just happened to have the most perfect compositions to play is what this album documents. Even "Romantic Warrior" by RTF didn't manage the compositional consistency, melodic accessiblity or impressionistic ambience of "Enigmatic Ocean."