Third Stream / Progressive Big Band / Post Bop / Jazz Related Soundtracks / Fusion • United Kingdom
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Neil Ardley was born in 1937 in Wallington, Surrey, England. He was educated at Wallington County Grammar School and Bristol University, where he took a degree in chemistry in 1959. He began to take a practical interest in music at the age of 13, when he started to learn the piano, and later took up the saxophone, playing both instruments in jazz groups at the university. 
 On leaving university, he went to live in London and joined the John Williams Big Band on piano, writimg his first arrangements and compositions for the band. In 1964, he was invited to become the director of the New Jazz Orchestra, a newly-formed orchestra made up of many of the best young jazz musicians in London. He developed his arranging and composing skills with the NJO, an association that continued until the NJO's last recording in 1973 (apart from a reunion read more...
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NEIL ARDLEY albums / top albums

NEIL ARDLEY Greek Variations album cover 3.96 | 3 ratings
Greek Variations
Fusion 1970
NEIL ARDLEY Mediterranean Intrigue / Martenot album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Mediterranean Intrigue / Martenot
Jazz Related Soundtracks 1971
NEIL ARDLEY A Symphony of Amaranths album cover 4.00 | 2 ratings
A Symphony of Amaranths
Third Stream 1972
NEIL ARDLEY Kaleidoscope of Rainbows album cover 3.14 | 2 ratings
Kaleidoscope of Rainbows
Third Stream 1976
NEIL ARDLEY Harmony of the Spheres album cover 3.00 | 2 ratings
Harmony of the Spheres
Third Stream 1979
NEIL ARDLEY Mike Taylor Remembered album cover 3.00 | 1 ratings
Mike Taylor Remembered
Post Bop 2007

NEIL ARDLEY EPs & splits

NEIL ARDLEY live albums

NEIL ARDLEY Will Power album cover 2.50 | 1 ratings
Will Power
Progressive Big Band 1975
NEIL ARDLEY Neil Ardley & The New Jazz Orchestra: On The Radio - BBC Sessions 1971 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Neil Ardley & The New Jazz Orchestra: On The Radio - BBC Sessions 1971
Progressive Big Band 2017

NEIL ARDLEY demos, promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs)

NEIL ARDLEY re-issues & compilations

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NEIL ARDLEY A Symphony of Amaranths

Album · 1972 · Third Stream
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Sean Trane
Amongst the rare works of Neil Ardley that hadn’t received a reissue (CD or other), Symphony Of Amaranths was a major gap, and it finally found its way on Dusk ire in 2012 (much to my relief), though I didn’t find out until a few months ago. Along with its predecessor, Greek Variations, these two albums feature Ardley as a leader of Third Stream fusion (classic and jazz), and it is little wonder some draw comparison between Ardley and Gill Evans or Duke Ellington (as thought of with the previous Greek Variations). Retrospectively billed as the second staple of his “trilogy”, I find Amaranths much closer to Variations than to Kaleidoscope, but also less thrilling than the first. As for musicians, we’ll find the usual suspects, , from Lowther, Carr, Beckett, Barbara, Rendell, Heckstall-Smith, , Tracey,and Jenkins to Ricotti, Clyne, Hiseman, and many others. And in the string dept, you’ll find most of the names found on Variations as well.

The sidelong instrumental title track suite (dedicated to GE and DE) is the main course of the album, and is a good mix of classic music melted in a twirling happy big-band jazz music. The long piece goes through almost every mood, alternating between the string section and the horn section, but never afraid to cross-pollinate and present a hermaphrodite product that can either overjoy or repel the listener. Indeed, the barrier-breaking fusion can be seen as groundbreaking, but can also appear as a sell-out “Night Of The Prom” thing for those who don’t have the historical musical landmarks in mind.

The flipside opens with a big surprise with poems declaimed as narrative Dong And The Luminous Nose: I’m generally wary (if not even dismissive) of such musical cheesy exercise – even worse when rock music is involved: Tull’s Hare in Passion Play or Wakeman’s Journey or Round Table or Procol’s Something Magic - but in this case, we’re dealing with a very well written piece over texts from Edward Lear, James Joyce and Lewis Carroll that avoids cheesiness or ill-attempted humour and involves the spoken words (courtesy of Ivor Cutler) evolving to singing or almost rapping (ala Gill-Scott Heron), partly because the pace is gradually and dramatically increasing throughout, backed some tremendous instrumentation like Ricotti’s vibraphone. Ardley goes one further with Three more Poems, this time sung by the unavoidable Norma Winstone with a fun-time big band, though in this case, we’re closer to crooner singing, if it wasn’t for the advanced un-mainstream arrangements of the music behind her.

Of course, with the fad of bonus material added on to classic albums, they often don’t add up to much or are completely out of context and it is the case here, with the God Saves Tango version. Forgettable and best forgotten, really, as it kind of ruins the experience of the album.

Though SoA and GV are very audacious albums (if the present is a tad syrupy, because of the string section being too present), Ardley would go one step further (if not two) with Will Power (subtitled Shakespeare Birthday Celebration Music), but that is simply a step too far for yours truly. Thankfully enough, Ardley found the light and went back to safer grounds with the excellent Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows (76) and Harmony Of The Spheres (79), though both were quite unique and Ardley-esque in their own rights. In the meantime, Amaranths is a very solid (and unsettling) album that deserves to be heard by all Third Stream fans. And if you’re curious about the slogan of “Britain’s answer to Evans and Ellington”, you might want to check it out, to see if it isn’t usurped. Though Duke might seem a bit of a stretch (the recording technology and time lapsed is too big), comparisons with Gil are certainly valid. OK, Dusk Fire, bring on “Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe”, the last brick in Ardley’s wall.

NEIL ARDLEY Greek Variations

Album · 1970 · Fusion
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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.

NEIL ARDLEY Mike Taylor Remembered

Album · 2007 · Post Bop
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Sean Trane
MTR is British composer Neil Ardley’s homage to the faint shooting star composer Mike Taylor, who probably wouldn’t be remembered much (if at all) if it was not for the present album. Indeed, Taylor had been a very promising composer that kind of faded from the radar and disappeared from the planet in the late 60’s, part of the drug casualties that hit both the jazz and pop realms. Some go as far as drawing some kind of parallel between Syd Barrett and Mike Taylor, but the former survived his plunge for decades, while the latter was a much more accomplished composer that couldn’t (or wouldn’t) find help from friends or family and finally exhausted its burnt candle without seeing the limelight in early 69. Ardley and many of the London jazz-scene musos that had crossed his path or played his music sat down together and made the present album in homage. And to be honest, it is quite true from this tribute, that Taylor was at least equal composer to Ardley, Carr, Wesbrook, Garrick and a few others, but his chronic instability most likely played him many dirty tricks, everyone witnessing helplessly his descent into street life and becoming a tramp, before extinguishing itself, a bit like a spent candle. Indeed when he first started on the scene, he looked like a bank manager, but in his last studio works, he looked like a hippy or a tramp, as can be seen on the album’s front sleeve.

So it’s a poignant tribute that is paid not only by Ardley (who rearranged the compositions), but Henry Lowther, Ian Carr, Chris Pyne, Barb Thompson, Ray Warleigh, Sulzmann, Branscombe, Laurence, Matthewson, Jon Hiseman and Norma Winstone (amongst others). Opening on the orchestrally-arranged Half Blue/Pendulum, we’re hearing excellent big-band jazz, not far from the best Ellington, but with a more modern English twist. There are also a bunch of lower-keyed songs like I See You, Brown Song Of Love, Summer Sounds (with Thompson using a synth), the silly military Rhyme In Time, all of which are sung by rather soberly by Norma, generally accompanied by a much slower formation. Other tracks, such as Son Of Red Blues and Folk Dance, or Black And White Raga are more complex or higher-energy and demand a bit more attention. The fans of Colosseum will no doubt recognize one of the band’s classic concert track, Jumping Off The Sun, which came from Jon Hiseman’s crossing path with Taylor, but this is obviously a more standard jazz version, but it’s quite charming with Norma giving it a different ring than Chris Farlowe did for years. The album’s highlights are the opening Pendulum and the closing Raga pieces, both of which are showing Taylor’s unpolished talents, but also Ardley’s outstanding arranger gift.

To be honest, I don’t think I have ever heard an original recording of Taylor’s compositions (few have ever been published), so I don’t really know if Ardley’s arrangement were sticking very close to the origins, or if he was rather liberal in his reinterpretations, but it sounds quite excellent to these ears. A fairly poignant album that can easily sit in between Neil Ardley’s excellent early 70’s oeuvres, stepping a bit aside from his usual Third Stream works, to concentrate on more standard (often big-band) jazz. Warmly recommended to those enjoying the British jazz songwriting particularities, even if rearranged by another jazz-Martian and it comes with a detailed booklet.


Live album · 1975 · Progressive Big Band
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Sean Trane
Theoretically a joint effort between four great British jazzmen, this album is often found under Neil Ardley’s section, because he took the general music direction of the project. Recorded live in a cathedral in April 74, mixed in Decca’s studio that same summer, and released late in the year, this is another odd album for Decca/Deram. A project that focused on Shakespeare’s tercentennial, which might surprise a bit, given the four main-partaker’s jazz’s credential, but then again the music on this double disc affair is only jazz for lack of better definition or pigeonhole. Embodying a large part of the London jazz scene of the times, you’ll find such stalwarts like Norma Winstone, Ian Carr, Kenny Wheeler, Gordon Beck, John Taylor and Trevor Tomkins to name but few. Note that both “composer Ardley and Mike Gibbs don’t play instruments on the present, and that there are two cellist to give it an almost “New Thing” thing.

Seven tracks spread over four vinyl sides, including the sidelong Gibbs-penned composition Sonnet, which is slightly modal and mid-east Asian-sounding, but a very modern-sounding piece where Taylor and Beck’s piano are not afraid to go overboard, but Winstone’s celestial but ultimately abNorma(l) voices are taking the track over the edge for many jazzjoes. Over that flipside are featured two Ardley compositions, very much in the line of his “songwriting”, the first of which, the 11-mins Shall I Compare Thee, uses a reduced orchestra form, but it doesn’t help much figuring out the music’s imbroglio it got itself into. And if you think that it doesn’t get any weirder, wait until you get a load of the even stranger and goofier Charade For A Bard, where things gets very dissonant and at times grotesque (Norma’s off-the-bat scat-singing helping) and almost abstract. Very weird, and not my favourite part of the concert.

The second disc opens on the only Tracey-penned track Sweet Lady, where Norma becomes Ophelia, where she portrays the slide from innocence to madness and finally death. Both Taylor’s improvised and Tracey’s written solo pianos are the other attraction of the piece. Definitely not easy stuff either, despite a more accessible ending. Spread over 30-mins (and two vinyl faces), Carr’s four-movement Will’s Birthday Suite is the other highlight (IMHO) of this project. Opening on cello and bowed-bass drones over piano ticklings and solemn horns, the Heyday movement settles on a JR/F that finally gets this writer into Willy’s shaken-pear heritage celebrations. However, on the flipside, the Fear No More movement does return to a dissonant soundscape. Fool talk features a completely out-of-place and goofy jazz choir ala Andrews Sisters over an almost-grotesque quirky beat. A lengthy Rhodes solo (from Tracey) follows, before the opening JR/F groove returns to close the project in an energetic fashion. Can’t help but thinking that this closing bit is hiding the dearth and hollowness of some of the themes in the main body of the Will Power concept.

Well I’m Norma(-lly) a Winstone fan, but I must say that her contribution to this extremely difficult project (and what was expected from her) will always make Will Power a rarely-played album for most jazzheads, at least for its two centrepiece facets. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t dream of placing the blame on her, since she didn’t compose any of the music, where lays the real flaw. Certainly un-representative of the British jazz scene and anything but an essential album, this is the kind of album that might interest Third Stream fans or avant-garde jazzheads, but those into fusion will find way too few moments to make them happy.

NEIL ARDLEY Harmony of the Spheres

Album · 1979 · Third Stream
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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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