NEIL ARDLEY — Harmony of the Spheres (review)

NEIL ARDLEY — Harmony of the Spheres album cover Album · 1979 · Third Stream Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Sean Trane
Generally regarded as well-past Ardley’s finest hour, HotS is also at the tail end of Neil’s better period, as can be expected with the turn of the decade around the bend. If you’re familiar with Ardley’s previous album, you will be in for quite a surpise, although you’ll still find traces of the splendid JR/F that graced his KoR album, but it is strongly laced with tons of synthesizers, which will give the album a certain spacey touch. And the stunning Hypgnosis artwork is certainly a good idea to the music on the album as well; but be warned that the synths can be over-powering, and not necessarily in a good manner. You’ll find dome of Neil’s usual suspects, such Ian Carr, Tony Coe, Barb Thompson, Norma Winstone, Geoff Castle, Trevor Tomkins, John Martyn (yes, believe it!!) and lesser-known Kristian (bass) and Burgess (drums). Soooo, HotS is based on some hazy space mainly-instrumental concept about Solar planets revolving around. Apparently each planet is represented by a note, the furthest away (Pluto) being the lowest in the scale.

Opening on some spacey whispers and some inventive but ultimately-cheezy synth layers (not too far from Tangerine’s Dream or JM Jarre’s early stuff), but the bass soon rips Upstarts All from its reverie, but remains a tad “synthetic” in its structure, despite some wild guitar, courtesy of John Martyn. Throughout most of the album, Neil’s synth are systematically too-present and mixed too loud, and this, mixed with the often binary-sounding pop/disco-ish rhythms (they’re not that simple, though) will probably upset a few jazzers and fusionheads, but if capable to overcome these traits (some will say traitors), you’ll be in for an intriguing fusion album. Somehow a bit reminiscent of Nucleus’ In Flagrante Delicto (there are six Nucleus or ex-N players on HotS) on one side and on the other end of the scale, this is announcing Ardley’s future project of Zyclus’s cheesy synth madness, which personally is not my cup of tea.

Norma’s aerial incantations, coupled with these deceptively-simple rhythms do give a kitsch aural aura and certainly induces some uncomfortable intellectual unease to the listener, which will reach its apex with the synth-only extravaganza (read snooze-fest) of Soft Stillness. Fortunately that album-low is countered by the album’s peak, the excellent Headstrong and Carr’s outstanding solo over an enthralling bass line and Martyn’s awesome guitar interventions and Barb’s enchanting flute parts. The closing Tranquility lays some interesting beds of percussions, courtesy of Tomkins.

Recently reissued by Esoteric Records (yes, that a little bit a surprise from them), but forgetting to actually list the line-up musicians (outside a few lines in the text of the liner notes), this album is not what I’d call a first-line investigation into Ardley’s vast musical realm (including his Third Stream works). Not essential at all, unless you want to hear some fine Martyn Echoplexed-guitar and Carr wha-wha-ed trumpet solos.

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