NEIL ARDLEY — Greek Variations (review)

NEIL ARDLEY — Greek Variations album cover Album · 1970 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Sean Trane
After contributing to the Rendell-Carr Quintet and founding the seminal New Jazz Orchestra, a centrepiece of the Singing London jazz scene, Ardley started working on his first solo album, when it became obvious that NJO was nearing its end. But it’s like Neil went far to find collabs for his project, as most of the cast for Greek Variations played in the NJO at one point or another. We’ll find Rendell, Carr, Gibbs, Jenkins, Barbara, Clyne, Ricotti Marshall, Tomkins, Whitehead, but a bit more surprising Spedding and Jack Bruce. Some writers (and Ardley himself) tend to present Variations as the first chapter of a trilogy that also include Amaranths (Ok, that makes sense musically) and oddly enough Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows - I’d have named the flawed Will Power instead. So this album is attributed to Ardley, but to Ian Carr and Ron Rendell as well, (all three were part of the RCQ’s first line-up), but Ardley’s composition takes the whole first side, while Ian’s and Don’s share the flipside

The sidelong instrumental title track is based on Greek folk tunes, but given the heavy-handed jazz and classic arrangements, it’s not that easy to spot them - not that I’m any kind of expert in Greek music, much less ancient themes. Yup, I could hear certain intonations or motifs reminiscent of the Greek heritage in each of the six movements, but the whole concept is explained in the original liner notes (better find your looking glass though, because of the small print) much better than I could. Ian Carr’s quarter album is a very quiet and calm one, despite the fact that the line-up is of the first Nucleus – Spedding included – and you won’t find much of the fire and volcanic activity on their own fusion albums. Surprisingly enough Don Rendell’s tracks are a little more upbeat than Ian’s, but remain jazzy and lighthearted like the rest of the album.

Generally regarded as Neil Ardley’s first solo chef d’oeuvre, Greek Variations & Other Aegean Exercises is indeed quite a semi-lost classic of 60’s & 70’s British jazz, one that would deserve a lot more interest both among specialist and casual jazzheads. The only CD reissue I’m aware of is the Impressed-Re-pressed label one, under the Universal patronage, which might appear odd, since the vinyl was released on the Columbia-UK label, but let’s leave it the benefit of the doubt, since it’s Greek Variations is simply too stunning to be ignored on pure honesty principles. Definitely one of Britain’s best jazz albums, GV is the living proof of Neil Ardley’s extraordinary composition and directing talents.

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