July 17 - "Neil Ardley & The New Jazz Orchestra: On The Radio – BBC Sessions 1971"

What does it sound like?:

Interest declared – Market Square Music/Dusk Fire-meister Peter Muir is a pal, but I don’t think I’ve reviewed any of the label’s output here before and he has never asked me to. So, enough of the caveats… Peter has reissued, on his Dusk Fire imprint, three of the late Brit jazz composer/bandleader Neil Ardley’s legendary late 60s/70s albums thus far (‘Le Dejeuner sur L’Herbe’, ‘A Symphony of Amaranths’ and ‘Keleidescope of Rainbows’) plus the first-time release for the live set ‘Camden ’70’. Three of those four were with the New Jazz Orchestra, an occasional ensemble featuring a wealth of great British jazz and jazz-rock players, and this new release – combining two half-hour BBC broadcasts from 1971, with excellent sound – is another gem, hitherto unreleased and containing several compositions hitherto unreleased in any form.

The first broadcast is of a concert recorded at the Camden Theatre and interspersed with witty introductions by Humphrey Lyttelton. Most of the players involved will sell this record to people even half-interested in the era without another word from me – trumpeters Harry Beckett, Ian Carr, Henry Lowther, saxophonists Don Rendell, Barbara Thompson, Dave Gelly, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Frank Ricotti on vibes, Mike Gibbs on trombone, Jeff Clyne on bass, and three further then-current members of Colosseum (along with Dick H-S) in Dave Greenslade (keys), Dave Clempson (guitar) and Jon Hiseman (drums).

The opening numbers, George Russell’s slinky ‘Stratusphunk’ and Mike Gibbs’ joyous ‘Tanglewood ’63’ (recorded commercially by both Gibbs and Colosseum by then), get things off to a barnstorming start, and were in the same set positions for the Orchestra’s Camden Festival set in 1970 (as heard on the ‘Camden ’70’ CD, though here in perfect sound). My personal preference is for small group arrangements of ‘Stratusphunk’, but this one does the job. The next two pieces will delight Brit jazz buffs, being arrangements of two of the late (even then) outsider genius Mike Taylor’s pieces, ‘Half Blue’ and ‘Pendulum’. The latter would be recorded in a studio by Ardley’s crew for the projected 1973 album ‘Mike Taylor Remembered’, although that would not be released until the Dusk Fire edition in 2007. The pieces are full of nuances, quirks and fascination.

The final two pieces in the concert were, as far as I know, not otherwise recorded by anyone – neither their composers nor the NJO: Barbara Thompson’s ‘Terre De Miel’ and (occasional member) Jack Bruce’s ‘The Immortal Ninth’.

As terrific as the concert is, though, I think the real find for this release is the September 1971 studio session, for ‘Jazz In Britain’ (presented by a rather austere-sounding Brian Priestly) of a single long piece, ‘The Time Flowers’, never otherwise recorded and, as the excellent Dave Gelly’s notes explain, only performed once in a concert version by the NJO. This is some kind of masterpiece. On paper it sounds ghastly – the BBC string section plus one Keith Winter on electronic sounds and five jazzers, including the avant-garde musician Barry Guy (then a member of the Howard Riley Trio among others). The other jazzers are Ardley (MD), Ian Carr (trumpet/flugel), Don Rendell (tenor and alto), and Frank Ricotti (vibes).

somehow, Ardley created a dreamy, slightly dislocating but evolving, absorbing piece of music where the constituent parts seem to work perfectly together. At times the written string parts reminded me of Vaughan Williams but mostly of Arvo Part, the minimalist Estonian composer, whose string music somehow manages to be be both warm and icy, melancholy and uplifting. The brass solists, otherworldly vibes and electronics all add to the journey. I thought more than once of Alice in Wonderland when listening, here and there the Howard Riley Trio, and here and there moments of Jethro Tull’s ‘Warchilds’, with the singular mix of strings and saxophone. While other jazz-based free improv artists around this time were creating very austere, cold avant-garde music, this piece manages to move around the edges of that soundworld with the pastoral clothing of tonality. It keeps pulling one back for repeated listens – and it’s beautifully recorded.