This is music of gravitas and an altogether worthier effort than Mystical Adventures and Cosmic Messenger, two lightweight Ponty albums which, much to my bewilderment, often attract rave reviews. Imaginary Voyage is early JLP at its best, with the four-part title track the highlight. Extended tracks like this might not be fashionable nowadays, but this is an indictment of the record-buying public rather than Ponty and his ilk. The only substandard piece is 'New Country', which, as its name suggests, tips its hat to Nashville and its frivolous musical output, and prevents me from deeming the album a classic.
The violin had a bit of an image problem in rock music. Despite the best efforts of Darryl Way and Eddie Jobson in Curved Air, and that annoying Graham Smith fellow in Van Der Graaf, it could never quite shake off its associations with the school orchestra and the tedium of compulsory music lessons. Jean-Luc Ponty made the instrument cool with his participation on one of the coolest rock albums made, Frank Zappa's HOT RATS of 1970. After this brief spell in the limelight, we assumed he returned to his jazz roots, inspired by Stephan Grapelli. Then suddenly in 1976, just as jazz-rock hit its maturity, radio presenters such as Alan Freeman and Derek Jewell (on Radio Three's 'Sounds Interesting') were playing tracks from a new Ponty solo album -- IMAGINARY VOYAGE. Of course, they didn't have time to play more than a couple of tracks, but helpfully, the first two tracks on this album were very radio-friendly. Even if you knew the album well, those were the two tracks you selected when you wanted to make compilation tapes. That remains my view today, pretty much. Actually one of the advantages of CD is that, if you've always been a lazy type, you get to hear what was Side Two on the LP that you could never be bothered to turn over. Of a similar structure to Focus's MOVING WAVES, the LP put five concise tracks on Side One, and then a single extended instrumental piece on Side Two. This is all crossover jazz-rock stuff. If you like early Bill Bruford (e.g. ONE OF A KIND) or Return to Forever (NO MYSTERY), you'll find much to like about IMAGINARY VOYAGE, although this album doesn't quite meet the same standard. The backing musicians include the usual high-calibre performers of the 1970s: e.g. Tom Fowler from Zappa's band on bass, and Daryl Stuermer is very good on sparkling guitar (before he went all commercial by joining Phil Collins). The packaging is without extras: Rhino have simply copied across the LP's cover art, and re-typed the album information. It's not remastered, and the bass is pretty murky. The album did pretty well in 1976/77, and most of us who bought it went on to buy his next, ENIGMATIC OCEAN, but stopped there. This is about as enjoyably undemanding as jazz-rock got, and well worth adding to your collection.