02 Wine Dark Lullaby
04 Persephone's Jive
05 Farewell Penelope
06 Odysseus, King Of Ithaca
07 Siren's Song
08 Veil Of Ino
Piano - Neil Ardley
Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute – Barbara Thompson (tracks: A)
Bass – Jeff Clyne (tracks: A, B1 to B3)
Bass - Neville Whitehead (tracks: B4 to B7)
Cello – Amaryllis Fleming (tracks: A)
Cello - Charles Tunnel (tracks: A)
Drums – John Marshall (tracks: A, B1 to B3)
Drums - Trevor Tomkins (tracks: B4 to B7)
Electric Bass, Acoustic Bass – Jack Bruce (tracks: A)
Guitar – Chris Spedding (tracks: B1 to B3)
Soprano Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Oboe – Karl Jenkins (tracks: A)
Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Flute [Alto], Clarinet – Don Rendell (tracks: A, B4 to B7)
Tenor Saxophone, Flute – Stan Robinson (tracks: B4 to B7)
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone – Brian Smith (tracks: B1 to B3)
Trombone – Michael Gibbs (tracks: A)
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Ian Carr (tracks: A, B1 to B3)
Vibraphone, Marimba, Percussion – Frank Ricotti (tracks: A)
Viola – Ken Essex (tracks: A)
Violin – Jack Rothstein (tracks: A), Kelly Isaacs (tracks: A)
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 in 1993). Here he met many musicians with whom he was to form lasting friendships, notably Ian Carr, Jon Hiseman, Barbara Thompson, Dave Gelly, Michael Gibbs, Don Rendell and Trevor Tomkins. All played on the subsequent recordings that Neil made under his own name. ?
At the same time, Neil was building a professional career in publishing. In 1962, he joined the editorial staff of the World Book Encyclopedia, an American publisher that set up in London to produce an international edition of the encyclopedia. Over the next four years that the project took, he learnt the craft of writing for young people literally from A to Z. A spell at Hamlyn, then pioneering low-price information books, followed and in 1968 he became a freelance book editor in order to have more time to devote to music. Editing evolved into writing over the 1970s, and he became an author of information books, mainly for children, on natural history (especially birds), science and technology, and music.
As Neil Ardley developed from an editor to an author in his publishing career, so he developed from an arranger to a composer in his musical career. In the late 1960s, Ian Carr introduced him to Denis Preston, who had a stable of composers and performers - many in the jazz field - that he commissioned and recorded. With Denis' encouragement, Neil composed his first full-length works, developing a style of music that combined classical methods of composition, with their deep emotional return of developing themes and harmonic structures, with the spirit and spontaneity of jazz. His music is very tuneful and often richly orchestrated, as Denis made available a wide range of instruments, including strings, woodwinds and harp, to extend the conventional jazz line-up. Neil continued to explore this vein by adding electronics as synthesizers developed during the 1970s. ?
In 1980, as Neil began an all-electronic album, his recording contract was abruptly terminated and it was obvious that no viable future lay in music. Fortunately, at this time book design began to progress astonishingly as computers made their way into publishing, and Neil found himself at the forefront of this development when he began to write principally for the innovative British publisher Dorling Kindersley in 1984. There was little energy or time for music as a whole series of DK books evolved, notably the best-selling and award-winning The Way Things Work, which Neil wrote with the brilliant American illustrator David Macaulay and which sold over 3 million copies worldwide. Overall, by the time he retired in 2000, Neil had written 101 books that sold a total of about 10 million copies.
There was a little new music during this period, notably with the electronic jazz group Zyklus that combined improvisation with electronic methods of composition, but Neil did not find a new composing voice until 2000. He then began to compose choral music, having gained useful experience by singing in local choirs during the late 1990s, and was fully engaged in vocal music until his death in 2004.
Recorded in '69, Greek Variations & Other Aegean Exercises is irresistible on two counts. First, for its daringly conceived and brilliantly performed music, inspired by Greek folk songs and instrumental textures and deep enough to reveal all its treasures only after many repeated listenings. Second, for being recorded at the moment when the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet, a major force in British straight-ahead jazz since '62, had broken up and Carr's equally influential jazz-rock band Nucleus was rising from the ashes.
The first half of the album has composer Neil Ardley directing a fourteen-piece chamber orchestra featuring Rendell and Carr, plus a supporting cast of creme de la creme British musicians in "The Greek Variations," a six-part suite based on a traditional Greek folk tune. The second half features in turn a quintet led by Carr—Nucleus in all but name—and a quartet led by Rendell, on shorter suites maintaining a Greek flavour and ambience.
An undercurrent of brooding turbulence surfaces at various points in the "Variations" suite, as though some sort of tidal wave might erupt from the Aegean at any moment, but at other times the mood is sunnier and vivacious (or delicately moonlit), and there are lovely solo passages, both improvised and composed, from Frank Ricotti on marimba/vibraphone, Karl Jenkins on oboe, Rendell on alto flute (on which he has a voice as distinctive as on tenor sax) and Carr on flugelhorn. Comparisons with the Miles Davis and Gil Evans collaborations inevitably spring to mind. But Carr, though strongly influenced by Davis, is ultimately his own man, and Ardley is absolutely so too, and the result is an entirely fresh approach to composed/improvised orchestral jazz.
The three Carr-composed tracks are performed by Carr plus Nucleus founding members Brian Smith, Chris Spedding, Jeff Clyne and John Marhsall. "Wine Dark Lullaby" and "Orpheus" conjure up balmy Mediterranean nights, soft and lush, while "Persephone's Jive" is a wild Greek dance made ever more urgent by the sustained clatter of Afrobeat in Spedding's aggressive, staccato comping. Only a few minutes long, but still one of the highlights of the set.
The closing Rendell-composed tracks feature Rendell alongside Stan Robinson, Neville Whitehead and Trevor Tomkins. The wistful "Farewell Penelope" could almost come from a film noir soundtrack, with Rendell's tenor evoking a lonely night-time cityscape. "Odysseus, King of Ithaca" and "Veil of Ino" are fiercer, showing off his well loved ruff 'n' tuff side.