Monday, June 18, 2018

The Chitinous Ensemble - 1971 - Chitinous

The Chitinous Ensemble

01. Chitinous
(a) Mandible 1:11
(b) De Blonck 2:40
(c) Mushroom Dance 3:14
(d) Was-Eye? 1:17
02. Aldebaranian 4:29
03. Dance 8:41
04. Rønkproat'tn
(a) 8 Fish-Eyes 6:13
(b) Rockrott 1:52
(c) Loopild 5:17
(d) Stoned 1:32

Baritone Saxophone – Dave Richmond
Baritone Saxophone – Don Honeywell
Bass Guitar – Brian Odgers
Bass Trombone – Ray Premru
Bassoon, Bass Clarinet – Bob Efford
Cello – Alan Dalziel
Cello – Ben Kennard
Cello – Claire Deniz
Cello – Clive Anstee
Cello – Francis Gabarra
Cello – Fred Alexander
Cello – Paul Buckmaster
Cello – Vivian Joseph
Double Bass – Chris Laurenc
Double Bass – Denis Bowden
Double Bass – Ron Mathewson
Double Bass – Tim Bell
Drums – Barry Morgan
Drums – John Marshall
Electric Piano – Paul Buckmaster
Electric Piano – Peter Robinson
Guitar – Louis Stuart
Percussion – Barry Morgan
Percussion – Chris Karan
Percussion – Denis Lopez
Percussion – Raoul Mayora
Piano – Diana Lewis
Soprano Saxophone – Brian Smith
Tabla – Chris Karan
Trombone – Bobby Lamb
Trumpet – Cliff Haines
Trumpet – John Donerly
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Ian Carr
Tuba – Martin Fry
Viola – Alex Taylor
Viola – Chris Wellington
Viola – John Graham
Viola – Ken Essex
Viola – Steve Shingles
Violin – Billy Miller
Violin – David Katz
Violin – George French
Violin – Harold Parfitt
Violin – Henry Datner
Violin – Jack Rothstein
Violin – Geoff Wakefield
Violin – Laurie Clay
Violin – Laurie Rossi
Violin – Les Maddox
Violin – Morris Taylor
Violin – Neil Watson
Violin – Nick Mernick
Violin – Perri McConnel
Violin – Peter Oxer
Violin – Ron Thomas
Violin – Ted Bryett
Violin – Trevor Connah

1: Recorded March 31st, 1970
2: Recorded April 13th, 1970
3: Recorded April 1st, 1970
4: Recorded April 2nd, 1970

This strange and beautiful album would have never been released at the time if not for the openness of the Deram label to issue even the most eccentric material, as long as it had musical merit. The Chitinous Ensemble was as fictitious as they come, so named by cellist / composer / arranger Paul Buckmaster, who assembled the musicians to perform an ambitious piece of orchestral music he composed. Buckmaster was a gifted and accomplished musician, who was in great demand in UK as arranger and composer, working with top Rock stars like Elton John, the Bee Gees (see “Odessa”) and even the Rolling Stones (see “Sticky Fingers”). He also composed numerous film scores, including the amazing soundtrack for Roman Polanski’s “Macbeth”, where he cooperated with the Third Ear Band. The ensemble Buckmaster assembled to perform this complex extended composition includes a large string section and a large deployment of his Jazz buddies, all top British Jazz players like Ian Carr on trumpet, Chris Lawrence on bass, John Marshall on drums and many more. The music is a mixture of classical influences with Jazz-Rock rhythmic patterns and modern sound vistas, all combined together into a wonderful sonic experience. It sounds absolutely great today as if time only enhanced the intrinsic beauty included therein. Wholeheartedly recommended for more adventurous listeners.

Excellent oddity from a time when looking forward and outward sometimes meant creating a contemporary soundworld to be chuckled at by future peoples, this orchestral tone poem jazz work brings all its ideas home to roost with much enjoyment to be had indeed.

This long lost Brit-jazz release is a much sought-after collector's item as the original vinyl LP almost never turns up. Released in a small quantity in 1971 on the British Deram label (a Decca company), Chitinous has attained near legendary status amongst British jazz collectors. Many will remember Buckmaster from the pop/rock world as he arranged the strings and orchestral parts (and often played the cello, too!) on such famous recordings as David Bowie's "Space Oddity", The Rolling Stones "Sticky Fingers", The Bee Gees "Odessa" and many Elton John albums including "Tumbleweed Connection" & "Madman Across the Water". In 1972 Buckmaster was introduced to jazz great Miles Davis, which led to a friendship and to Buckmaster's involvement on Davis' landmark "On the Corner" album! In addition to the usual "jazz" instrumentation of keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, sax & trumpet, this uses a large 'classical' ensemble of 18 violins, 5 violas, 7 cellists (including the solos played by Buckmaster himself), 2 double basses, 2 trumpets, trombone, bass trombone, tuba, bass clarinet, baritone sax, and percussion! Then there is the jazz-rock ensemble which reads like a who's who of Brit-jazz: Ian Carr (Nucleus)-trumpet & flugelhorn, Brian Smith (Nucleus)-soprano sax, Peter Robinson (Quatermass, Brand X)-electric piano, Dave Richmond (Manfred Mann) & Brian Odgers (Vangelis)-bass guitar and John Marshall (Nucleus, Soft Machine)-drums - among others!!! Musically this is best described as the perfect marriage of contemporary classical music & the world of jazz-rock. Hints at Nucleus or Soft Machine here & there, some hints at Miles Davis' electric work (which was certainly a general influence on Buckmaster's work) and the classical elements are certainly influenced by a myriad of composers of the latter half of the 20th century. Certainly this was very avant-garde for 1971 and doesn't really sound that dated today. And it is, for something described as a marriage of jazz-rock & 20th century classical music, much more restrained and even beautiful than that might make you think. In conclusion it is fair to say that if you are a fan of British jazz-rock or the Brit-jazz scene then you will simply love this album. If you are a fan of fusion or adventurous rock music then you should know that this is closer to Miles Davis than it is to Brand X. Especially if you love the marriage of an orchestra with the jazz or rock world in a very integral way, that is to say not just window dressing like strings on an Elton John album, then this is right up your alley! BTW, Chitinous comes from chitin meaning the "substance forming horny cover of beetles & crustaceans. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Neil Ardley - 1978 - Harmony of the Spheres

Neil Ardley 
Harmony of the Spheres

01. Upstarts All
02. Leap In The Dark
03. Glittering Circles
04. Fair Mirage
05. Soft Stillness And The Night
06. Headstrong, Headlong
07. Towards Tranqility

Bass Guitar – Bill Kristian
Clarinet, Soprano Saxophone – Tony Coe
Drums, Percussion – Richard Burgess
Electric Piano, Piano [Acoustic], Synthesizer [Minimoog] – Geoff Castle
Flute, Soprano Saxophone – Barbara Thompson
Percussion – Trevor Tomkins
Piano – Geoff Castley
Rhythm Guitar [Electric], Lead Guitar [Electric] – John Martyn
Synthesizer [Arp Odyssey, Omni] – Neil Ardley
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Ian Carr
Voice [Voices] – Norma Winstone, Pepi Lemer

Recorded at Morgan Studios, London, from July to September 1978.

Neil Ardley based this 1978 album on the ancient idea of the Harmony of the Spheres, the idea that each planet produces a musical note related to its orbit. It was reasoned that, as everything in the heavens is perfect, the notes must sound together to produce a perfect harmony. Neil Ardley synthesized the actual harmony of the spheres, deriving the frequencies of the notes from the orbital periods of the planets. It can be heard in the all-synthesizer track Soft Stillness and the Night, and it is appropriately mysterious and dramatic.
The album features John Martyn on guitar over a rich orchestral sound mixing electronic with acoustic instruments and voices. Harmony of the Spheres was the subject of a 30-minute film directed by Peter Walker and shown on ITV's The South Bank Show in 1979

Harmony of the Spheres was composer Neil Ardley's final album for a major label. Released by Decca in the U.K. in 1979. This is the record many of Ardley's most ardent (no pun intended) fans and jazz purists have dismissed out of hand. Simply put, both groups are wrong. The primary reason for this dislike is two-fold: first, the ubiquitous use of synthesizers. Given that this is a conceptual recording of the title, derived from the complex notions of the ancient Greeks, Ardley could find no acoustic instruments that could actually reproduce the sounds required. He assigned musical notes to each of the planets and discovered that the ratio of the orbit times of Mercury and Pluto (assigned the highest and lowest tones, respectively, because of their distance from the sun) were virtually identical to the ratio of frequencies of the sounds of the upper and lower range limits of human hearing. That this entire schemata is only approached and achieved once on the entire album, on "Soft Stillness & the Night," is immaterial. Ardley composed an entire suite around these sounds, the "harmony" as it were, and came up with a stellar jazz-rock set, that combines some of the very finest elements of prog, jazz improvisation, funk, and rock composition to hit record stores, and sounds distinctly different from anything else in his catalog. The cast on this brilliant album includes trumpeter Ian Carr and members of his band Nucleus, vocalist Norma Winstone, Tony Coe and Barbara Thompson on reeds and winds, Geoff Castle, Trevor Tomkins, Richard Burgess, Pepi Lemer, and the utterly amazing (and largely unrecognized) Billy Kristian, whose bassline is the anchor of the entire set, and who gets in some amazingly funky playing. The other big surprise is the appearance of John Martyn on electric guitar -- playing both lead and rhythm -- his playing here goes far beyond anything to appear on his own records -- let's put it this way, he could have hung with John Goodsall of Brand X without difficulty and possesses a trunkload of soul. Check out his smokin' fretwork on the opener "Upstarts All," which complements Kristian's bass work astutely. The disjointed funk on "Leap in the Dark" would have been right at home in many clubs at the time, though its syncopation would have thrown many. Here again, Kristian shines. Carr's genius is heard bountifully on "Head Strong, Headlong," that walks a line between jazz, funk, and blues. Taken as a whole, Harmony of the Spheres is not nearly as jarring now as it was when released, and is far less a "commercial" album than it was once considered. It's a fitting testimony to Ardley's compositional and sonic genius that he employs synthesizers as not only architectural building blocks but as actual melodic instruments as well. Only a brilliant pianist and harmonist could accomplish such a thing, and Ardley was both. Luckily for us, the grand British reissue label Esoteric released this set on CD for the first time in the West in 2008.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Neil Ardley - 1976 - Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows

Neil Ardley 
Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows

01. Prologue
02. Rainbow 1
03. Rainbow 2
04. Rainbow 3
05. Rainbow 4
06. Rainbow 5
07. Rainbow 6
08. Rainbow 7
09. Epilogue

Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute – Barbara Thompson (tracks: A1, A2, A4 to B4)
Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute – Bob Bertles
Bass – Roger Sutton
Cello [Acoustic, Electric] – Paul Buckmaster
Conductor, Synthesizer – Neil Ardley
Drums – Roger Sellers
Electric Piano, Synthesizer – Dave MacRae (tracks: A1 to B1, B4)
Electric Piano, Synthesizer – Geoff Castle
Guitar – Ken Shaw
Percussion, Vibraphone – Trevor Tomkins
Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet – Tony Coe
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute, Alto Flute – Brian Smith
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Ian Carr

Recorded at Morgan Studios, London, 1976.
Special Thanks to Colin Richardson & Ian Carr.
Kaleidoscope of Rainbows commissioned by the Camden Festival with the aids of funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain.

This work, recorded in 1976, completed a trilogy begun with The Greek Variations and continued with A Symphony of Amaranths. All of these works are based on a sequence of notes that provide the foundation for composition and improvisation; Kaleidoscope of Rainbows uses the five-note scale of Balinese gamelan music and has been seen as an early example of world music. It is a fully-fledged piece of jazz composition and the work is, in The Essential Jazz Records, judged as one of the 500 best albums in the entire history of jazz and one of very few British works to be included. It is notable for its "elliptical, emotional tunes" [The Guardian] and a ravishing saxophone solo by Barbara Thompson. 

Rainbows was the third album in a trilogy recorded by composer/bandleader Neil Ardley which started with '69's Greek Variations, reissued last year on Impressed, and continuing with '71's A Symphony Of Amaranths, rumoured to be up for reissue later this spring. In each of these albums, within different contexts, Ardley was concerned with, as he put it, "integrating the warmth and individual feeling of improvised music with the formal beauty of composition to the benefit of both." The context for Greek Variations was a series of variations on a Greek folk song, while for Amaranths it was settings of poems by Yeats, Joyce, and others.

For Rainbows Ardley nodded back to Greek Variations, this time developing the suite from the basic five note pelog scale used in Balinese music. It was also the album in which he first explored proto-electronic music—there are three, count 'em, synthesisists here—which became a key interest of his in the late '70s/early '80s.

The suite's seven movements, ranging in mood from the gentle and pastoral to the fiery and urgent, are seriously enjoyable through-compositions in their own right, and also the settings for a series of glistening solos from Ian Carr, Brian Smith, Dave Macrae, Geoff Castle, Paul Buckmaster, Barbara Thompson, Tony Coe, Ken Shaw, and Bob Bertles—with Buckmaster's electric cello on "Rainbow Three," Thompson's soprano on "Four," and Coe's clarinet on "Five" approaching the sublime. Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows lives up to every myth that developed around it during its wilderness years. A landmark album in British jazz.

Neil Ardley - 1972 - A Symphony of Amaranths

Neil Ardley
A Symphony of Amaranths

01. A Symphony Of Amaranths (24:56)
I. Carillon 5:50
II. Nocturne 7:19
III. Entracte 6:06
IV. Impromptu 5:41
02. The Dong With A Luminous Nose 11:42
03. Three Poems (11:13)
I. After Long Silence 4:08
II. She Weeps Over Rahoon 3:21
III. Will You Walk A Little Faster? 3:44

This recording is made with the financial assistance from the Arts Council Of Great Britain.
"After long Silence" (The words of this poem are by W. B. Teats and are used by permission of the copyright owner M. B. Yeats).
"She Weeps Over Rahoon" (By courtesy of The Society Of Authors on behalf of the trustees of the James Joyce Estate).
Jon Hiseman and Dick Heckstall-Smith appear by courtesy of Bronze and Island Records.

Piano [Prepared Piano] – Neil Ardley
Bass – Chris Laurence
Bass – Jeff Clyne
Cello – Charles Tunnell
Cello – Francis Gabarro
Drums – Jon Hiseman
Electric Piano – Karl Jenkins
Engineer – John Mackswith
Glockenspiel – Dave Gelly
Harp – David Snell
Harp – Sidonie Goossens
Harpsichord – Alan Branscombe
Piano, Celesta [Celeste] – Stan Tracey
Soloist, Saxophone – Barbara Thompson (tracks: A1)
Soloist, Saxophone – Dave Gelly (tracks: B2)
Soloist, Saxophone – Dick Heckstall-Smith (tracks: A3, B4)
Soloist, Saxophone – Don Rendell (tracks: A3)
Soloist, Trombone – Derek Wadsworth (tracks: B4)
Soloist, Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Harry Beckett (tracks: A1)
Soloist, Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Henry Lowther (tracks: A2)
Soloist, Vibraphone – Frank Ricotti (tracks: B2)
Trombone – Derek Wadsworth, Ray Premru
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Derek Watkins
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Nigel Carter
Tuba – Dick Hart
Viola – Ken Essex
Violin – Erich Gruenberg
Violin – Jack Rothstein
Violin – Kelly Isaacs
Vocals – Norma Winstone (tracks: B2 to B4)
Woodwind, Bassoon – Bunny Gould
Woodwind, Oboe – John Clementson

It wouldn’t be totally out of line to say that “post-rock,” the merger of rock, electric jazz, minimalism, and progressive music attributable to groups like Tortoise, cornetist Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, or Gastr Del Sol, began decades ago in England. Psychedelic heroes the Soft Machine employed jazz musicians like reedmen Karl Jenkins, Lyn Dobson and Elton Dean; King Crimson boasted pianist firebrand Keith Tippett among its early personnel; Cream bassist Jack Bruce switched to contrabass for a number of jazz ensemble recordings and performances; and prog favorites Colosseum counted free jazzers Dick Heckstall-Smith (saxophones), Jon Hiseman (drums) and Tony Reeves (bass) in their ranks. This cross-pollination between creative improvisation and psychedelic/progressive rock wasn’t just limited to English musicians, but it was certainly a noticeable factor in the development of both forms.

Composer-pianist Neil Ardley (1937-2004) may not be one of the most well known in English vanguard circles, but hopefully that will soon change as more of his music resurfaces on disc. Influenced heavily by Miles Davis’ right-hand man Gil Evans, Ardley founded the New Jazz Orchestra in 1963, an ensemble that featured the cream of the British jazz crop and released two records in its lifetime — Dejeuner sur l’Herbe (Verve, 1965) and Western Reunion 1965 (Decca, 1965 — reissued on CD by Vocalion). An expanded NJO cut the shockingly beautiful A Symphony of Amaranths in 1971 under Ardley’s sole leadership, and while garnering Arts Council awards upon its release, it has remained one of the scarcer LPs in Ardley’s catalog. Released by Regal Zonophone (home to Tyrannosaurus Rex’s early LPs), the session features a who’s who of British jazz and rock — Jenkins, Hiseman and Heckstall-Smith appear, as do percussionist Frank Ricotti, trumpeters Derek Watkins, Harry Beckett and Henry Lowther, reed players Don Rendell and Barbara Thompson, pianist Stan Tracey, harpist David Snell, bassists Chris Laurence and Jeff Clyne, and vocalists Ivor Cutler and Norma Winstone. Now, vying for “reissue of the year,” A Symphony of Amaranths has been reissued on CD by Dusk Fire (and on LP via Wah Wah), cut from the original master tapes with an extra track from the same session — an amusingly syrupy tango “National Anthem” that recalls Carla Bley.

The title piece, dedicated to Evans and Duke Ellington, begins with lush and glassine interstices from glockenspiel, vibes, harp, and piano strings before horns and rhythm emerge in a stately, hard chug, bedded by a string ensemble carpet. Beckett and Thompson trade off flugelhorn and soprano saxophone skirls, popping out of a field of cracking traps and cascading detail. The second movement is appropriately titled “Nocturne” and couples taut gong and castanet accents with lilting, throaty strings and woodwinds, a light but cutting sway that supports Lowther’s incisive, romantic trumpet keen. “Entracte” begins with harp, piano, and glockenspiel in trio, reminiscent of Steve Reich at first blush, soon splaying out into crepuscular flourishes. Heckstall-Smith’s burred tenor is front and center on “Impromptu,” the orchestra in painterly washes against the rhythm section’s extraordinary clip. Heckstall-Smith is an interesting contrast against the more studied robustness of Don Rendell (a star of Ardley’s excellent Greek Variations LP from 1970, on Columbia), who follows suit — their trades against brash ensemble passages and pulsing minimalism keep the music from bogging in self-reflection in the final few minutes, encouraging a punchy close.

Surrealist poet and raconteur Ivor Cutler and jazz-rock vocalist Norma Winstone are the stars of “The Dong With A Luminous Nose” and “Three Poems,” which took up the original LP’s second side. Cutler’s dry, warbling delivery is weird enough on its own, but set against impulsive ensemble push and striking orchestral accent it’s part of an absolutely fascinating picture appropriate to Edward Lear’s poem. In fact, the affinity between Cutler and Lear is likely how this three-part collaboration came into being. Ardley wasn’t the first to employ modern poetry with improvised music — English pianist-composer Michael Garrick recorded a number of successful examples for the Argo label during the mid-Sixties as well, to say nothing of the extraordinary collaborations between 20th century “classical” composers and poets. As one might expect, Ardley has written and arranged the music for “The Dong With A Luminous Nose” to the extent that improvisation is less a focal point than inflection and support, which shapes music and word into a balanced whole. Winstone is a powerful singer quite different from Cutler, and soars in her breathy lyric presentations of brief poems by Yeats, Joyce, and Carroll. The music is more open here and recalls the reverberant intensity of Winstone’s own LP The Edge of Time (Argo, 1972, which Ardley participated in), creating a dreamlike but forceful sphere of activity.

A Symphony of Amaranths presents Ardley’s work in gorgeous, full, and detailed sound with copious liner notes and photographs, and is one of the (sadly) rare examples of a reissue done exactly right. Hopefully more of Ardley’s music will see reissue in the near future, but for now this cornerstone set will more than suffice, fleshing out sporadically available examples from his small but rewarding catalog. And while the cast of 29 British improvisers and classical performers really make this set sing, this reissue rightly sets into relief how extraordinary deep one man’s vision was.

A Symphony of Amaranths is composer/polymath Neil Ardley’s most ambitious work, recorded in 1971 by the New Jazz Orchestra with added woodwind, harp and strings, and here (as on the original record) supplemented by settings of Edward Lear’s ‘The Dong with the Luminous Nose’ plus three poems by Yeats, Joyce and Lewis Carroll.

The title composition is ranked by many alongside Ardley’s more famous extended work, Kaleidoscope of Rainbows (sleevenote writer/saxophonist – and glockenspiel player – Dave Gelly calls it a ‘masterpiece’; Duncan Heining, in his recent book-length study of 1960s/1970s British jazz, Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers, describes it as ‘stunningly beautiful ... sensuous and delightful and bold in both conception and execution’), but there are dissenting voices, chief among them the late Richard Cook, who refers to Kaleidoscope as ‘a boring and ponderous record which might almost sum up why British jazz was losing so much of its audience at the time’.

At risk of fence-sitting, it’s easy to see the merits of both opinions, contrasting as they are. A Symphony of Amaranths is indeed grand in conception and adventurous in execution, and its chief merit is the ease and assurance with which it negotiates a path between power and grace, allowing a series of distinctive and skilful soloists (trumpeters Henry Lowther and Harry Beckett, saxophonists Barbara Thompson, Don Rendell and Dick Heckstall-Smith chief among them) to emerge convincingly from the intriguingly multi-textured ensemble sound while never allowing the piece’s momentum to flag for a moment.

The literary settings, however, are a mixed bag, the Lear and Carroll in particular encapsulating all the problems customarily associated with English whimsy of the period, though Norma Winstone sings impeccably and in the process makes Ivor Cutler’s eccentric Lear recital (which even the otherwise positive Heining considers ‘an acquired taste’) sound maddeningly arch. Overall, though, a fascinating snapshot of British jazz at a crucial period in its development.

Neil Ardley and John Leach - 1971 - Mediterranean Intrigue / Martenot

Neil Ardley and John Leach 
Mediterranean Intrigue / Martenot

Mediterranean Intrigue
01. Neil Ardley Barren Landscape 1:58
02. Neil Ardley Journey By Land 2:51
03. Neil Ardley Resting Place 2:43
04. Neil Ardley Sightseeing 2:33
05. Neil Ardley Road To Tranquility 1:43
06. Neil Ardley Minor Suspense 3:05
07. Neil Ardley Mediterranean Hustle 3:31
08. Neil Ardley Mirage 0:44
09. Neil Ardley Minor Scene 0:30
10. Neil Ardley Quiet Return 1:05
11. John Leach Allegro For Martenot A. 1:40
12. John Leach Allegro For Martenot B. 0:50
13. John Leach Mechanical Martenot A. 0:40
14. John Leach Mechanical Martenot B. 0:40
15. John Leach Reflection For Martenot 1:46
16. John Leach Melancholy Martenot 1:15
17. John Leach Gentle Martenot 1:15
18. John Leach Ethereal Martenot 2:03
19. John Leach Suspended Martenot 2:03
20. John Leach Ghostly Martenot 2:10
21. John Leach Martenot Gliss 1. 0:22
22. John Leach Martenot Gliss 2. 0:09
23. John Leach Martenot Gliss 3. 0:04
24. John Leach Martenot Gliss 4. 0:04
25. John Leach Martenot Drone 1:03

Neil Ardley, Ian Carr, Don Rendell - 1970 - Greek Variations

Neil Ardley, Ian Carr, Don Rendell
Greek Variations

01 The Greek Variations
I. Santorin
II. Omonoia
III. Delphi
IV. Kerkyra
V. Meteora
VI. Kriti
02 Wine Dark Lullaby
03 Orpheus
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. 

New Jazz Orchestra - 2017 - On The Radio BBC Sessions 1971

New Jazz Orchestra 
On The Radio BBC Sessions 1971

'Jazz Club', BBC Radio 2 And 3, February 14th 1971
01. Stratusphunk
02. Tanglewood '63
03. Half Blue
04. Pendulum
05. Terre De Miel
06. The Immortal Ninth
'Jazz In Britain' On BBC Radio 3, September 27th 1971
07. The Time Flowers

Bass – Barry Guy (tracks: 7)
Bass, Bass Guitar – Jeff Clyne (tracks: 1-6)
Conductor – Neil Ardley
Drums – Jon Hiseman (tracks: 1-6)
Electric Guitar – Clem Clempson (tracks: 1-6)
Electronics [Electronic Sounds] – Keith Winter (tracks: 7)
Organ, Electric Piano – Dave Greenslade (tracks: 1-6)
Reeds – Barbara Thompson (tracks: 1-6)
Reeds – Brian Smith (tracks: 1-6)
Reeds – Dick Heckstall-Smith (tracks: 1-6)
Reeds, Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone – Don Rendell
Reeds – Dave Gelly (tracks: 1-6)
Strings – London Studio Strings (tracks: 7)
Trombone – Derek Wadsworth (tracks: 1-6)
Trombone – Mike Gibbs (tracks: 1-6)
Trombone – Robin Gardner (tracks: 1-6)
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Bud Parkes (tracks: 1-6)
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Harry Beckett (tracks: 1-6)
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Henry Lowther (tracks: 1-6)
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Ian Carr
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Nigel Carter (tracks: 1-6)
Tuba – Dick Hart (tracks: 1-6)
Vibraphone [Vibes], Percussion – Frank Ricotti
Violin, Leader – Reginald Leopold (tracks: 7)

First ever release of BBC radio sessions by this iconic UK big jazz band
1000 copies ltd. edition pressing

An hour's worth of archival Neil Ardley and the New Jazz Orchestra is always a welcome event since it features the cream of British jazz from the late 1960s, early 70s. But this CD is split into two half hour programmes. The first is a live recording of Neil Ardley conducting the New Jazz Orchestra for the BBC Jazz Club programme, which was first broadcast on February 14th 1971. The second half is also a BBC recording, but for Radio 3's Jazz In Britain, first broadcast September 27th 1971 and is a suite composed by Neil Ardley and Keith Winter entitled "The Time Flowers."

The added bonus of the first broadcast is the quite unusual retention of Humphrey Lyttelton's highly informative announcements. But Humph was not without a very dry sense of humour as witnessed by the example of his typical urbane wit introducing Barbara Thompson's labyrinthine "Terre De Miel," Humph disingenuously refers to himself as having attended "Slough Grammar School" (he actually attended Eton College near Slough).

On the opener, George Russell's lively "Strastusphunk," Henry Lowther, Frank Ricotti, Derek Wadsworth, Dave Gelly and Brian Smith all solo whereas on Mike Gibbs's "Tanglewood '63," Harry Beckett and Dick Heckstall-Smith solo, the latter on tenor and soprano. The following two tracks which segue together seamlessly, are Mike Taylor's "Half Blue" and "Pendulum" on which Ian Carr solos on flugelhorn with typical elegance. In many respects these are the two standout tracks on the album. Taylor was an overlooked genius and his memorable compositions reflect this, utilising perfect arrangements and a rich array of tonal colour and exuberant harmonies.

The final number of the first set "The Immortal Ninth," was composed by Cream bassist Jack Bruce who played double bass on arguably the zenith of the NJO's recordings, Le Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe. This is a rare opportunity to hear the tune Bruce wrote especially for this big band. Another version can be heard on Bruce's 1995 album Monkjack recorded with Bernie Worrell.

The second set is more complex. It was probably pigeon-holed as "experimental" music at the time and the half hour piece was co-composed by Neil Ardley and synthesizer expert Keith Winter (who also appeared playing VCS3 on Ian Carr's Solar Plexus. {Ian Carr}}, Don Rendell, Frank Ricotti and Barry Guy are the four featured soloists. Carr solos on flugelhorn and later on Harmon-muted trumpet. At times, Carr's playing, underpinned by the London Studio Strings, is reminiscent of his masterwork, the "Northumbrian Sketches" suite, recorded for the 1988 album Old Heartland.

Occasionally, the synthesizer is noticeably vying for pole position amongst the horns and Barry Guy contributes swirls of amplified arco double bass, his virtuoso status very much in the ascendant. The music oscillates, sometimes wildly, from contemporary classical, often with a neo-romantic flavour, to out and out avant-garde married with bursts of electronica. Although it may not be Ardley's best or most memorable work, as an archival rarity it is undoubtedly an important testimony to the sounds that were emerging on the scene in the early 1970s, in the wake of psychedelic and progressive rock and nascent fusion. Also significantly, the BBC at that time was more enlightened in terms of the amount of airtime it was prepared to afford contemporary music.

With both sets on one CD weighing-in at an hour's worth in total and in clear stereo too, there's naturally an interesting comparison with Dusk Fire's previous archival release by the New Jazz Orchestra Camden '70. It also begs the question, how much more priceless jazz recorded for BBC radio shows is still extant and yet unreleased?

New Jazz Orchestra - 2008 - Camden '70

New Jazz Orchestra
Camden '70

01. Stratusfunk
02. Tanglewood
03. Shades Of Blue
04. Rope Ladder To The Moon
05. Dusk Fire
06. Naima
07. Nardis
08. Study
09. Rebirth
10. Ballad
11. Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe
12. National Anthem & Tango

Directed By – Neil Ardley
Bass Guitar – Tony Reeves
Drums – Jon Hiseman
Guitar – Clem Clempson
Organ [Hammond], Electric Piano [Fender Rhodes] – Dave Greenslade
Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Flute – Barbara Thompson
Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet – Dave Gelly
Tenor Saxophone, Flute – Jim Philip
Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone – Dick Heckstall-Smith
Trombone – Derek Wadsworth
Trombone – Mike Gibbs
Trombone – Robin Gardner
Trumpet – Mike Davis
Trumpet – Nigel Carter
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Harry Beckett
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Henry Lowther
Tuba – Dick Hart
Vibraphone, Percussion – Frank Jellett

Recorded live at the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre, London, WC1. Tuesday 26th May 1970.
During the Camden Festival.

The New Jazz Orchestra (a.k.a. NJO) led by composer / arranger Neil Ardley was Britain’s most prestigious and adventurous big band in the 1960s. Under Ardley’s visionary leadership the band developed the foundations for the modern European Jazz big band sound. Although incorporating the classic American big band tradition of Duke Ellington and the more modern approach of Gil Evans, Ardley managed to steer his band into uncharted territory, using his unique approach to instrumentation and bold arrangements. At the time this album was recorded live at London’s Camden Jazz Festival in May of 1970, Ardley was already moving rapidly towards the exploding Jazz-Rock Fusion genre, creating one of the first, and magnificent at that, examples of Jazz-Rock Fusion big band. Compared to American bands at the time, like Blood, Sweat & Tears or Chicago, Ardley’s approach is definitely much more refined and orchestral and uses a wider arsenal of the Jazz vocabulary, being therefore much more sophisticated. Having at his disposal some of the best British Jazz musicians (and then also Jazz-Rock Fusion musicians) he was able to turn the NJO into a “mean” and powerful Jazz-Rock Fusion ensemble, which truly fuses Jazz and Rock to the max. This of course brings us the players and more specifically to the fact that this version of NJO incorporates in its midst the entire lineup of one of the greatest British Jazz-Rock groups, Colosseum. Dick Heckstall-Smith (saxophone), Clem Clempson (guitar), Dave Greenslade (keyboards), Tony Reeves (bass) and Jon Hiseman (drums) all play here, and even a couple of tracks the band recorded on their albums are present, in a big band arrangement of course. With the members of Colosseum as a core of the band and with other notable players like Henry Lowther and Harry Beckett (trumpet), Dave Gelly and Barbara Thompson (saxophone) and even an ultra-rare appearance of Michael Gibbs on trombone, this is truly a superb group, able to face any challenge Ardley’s arrangements may present them with. BTW the presence of the Colosseum members is not incidental, as both Reeves and Hiseman were NJO’s founding members and Heckstall-Smith appeared on the NJO’s second album entitled “Le Dejeuner Sur L`Herbe”. Seven of the tracks present on that album are also included here, which turns this recording into an updated live version of that timeless classic. The original recording tape of this concert had quite a few technical problems, but was painstakingly and beautifully restored to life with an exceptional sound quality considering the circumstances under which it was recorded. One should be truly grateful to the producer of this immensely important historical material for making it available to us, the fans of NJO, Colosseum and British Jazz in general. This is indispensable legacy of the period and a must to any follower of British Jazz music.

New Jazz Orchestra - 1965 - Western Reunion (London 1965)

New Jazz Orchestra 
Western Reunion (London 1965)

01. Big P
02. Shades Of Blue
03. So What
04. If You Could See Me Now
05. Tiny's Blues
06. Milestone
07. Django
08. Maria
09. Western Reunion

Directed By, Leader – Neil Ardley
Alto Saxophone – Barbara Thompson
Alto Saxophone, Flute – Trevor Watts
Baritone Saxophone – Sebastian Freudenberg
Bass – Tony Reeves
Bass Trombone – Peter Harvey
Drums – Jon Hiseman
Flute, Alto Flute – Les Carter
French Horn – Mick Palmer
Piano – Lionel Grigson (tracks: 5)
Piano – Mike Barrett (tracks: 1 to 4, 6 to 10)
Tenor Saxophone – Dave Gelly
Tenor Saxophone – Tom Harris
Trombone – John Mumford, Paul Rutherford
Trumpet – Bob Leaper
Trumpet – Mike Phillipson
Trumpet – Tony Dudley
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Ian Carr
Tuba – Dick Hart

Recorded at Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London 14 March 1965

The New Jazz Orchestra (a.k.a. NJO) was a big band directed by bandleader / arranger / composer Neil Ardley and consisted of the best up-coming Jazz players on the British scene at the time (Ian Carr – trumpet, Paul Rutherford – trombone, Trevor Watts – sax, Barbara Thompson – sax, Tony Reeves – bass, John Hiseman – drums and many more). Ardley ran the orchestra with an “iron fist” and in time turned it into a perfectly well oiled ensemble, which was able to perform even the trickiest arrangements with a breeze. His outstanding arrangements of classic Jazz pieces are all masterpieces of rare beauty and sophistication and he manages to get out of the band so much more that an average US big band playing similar material. Of course the soloist, who are all quite outstanding, add another dimension to the overall sound, which is truly heavenly. This is the first album by NJO and includes mostly standards by American (Miles Davis, John Lewis) and British composers, but one of Ardley’s compositions is also included. Ardley, who was an admirer of Gil Evans, developed a distinctive “orchestral” (rather than traditional big band) sound with NJO, using the various sections of the band to complement each other’s sound and tonality. The overall effect is absolutely stunning and this is one of my all time favorite big band albums. This is essential listening to all big band fans and recommended to all Jazz listeners out there. A true gem!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Peter Lemer Quintet - 1968 - Local Colour

Peter Lemer Quintet
Local Colour

01. Ictus 6:52
02. City 7:38
03. Flowville 7:30
04. In The Out 9:20
05. Carmen 10:35
06. Enahenado 2:50

Nisar Ahmad Khan: tenor saxophone
John Surman: baritone saxophone, soprano saxophone
Peter Lemer: piano
Tony Reeves: bass
Jon Hiseman: drums

Recorded 1966 in London

British pianist Peter Lemer studied with Jaki Byard, Paul Bley, and Bill Dixon, so his roots in jazz are strong. His lengthy and distinguished career has found him in a wide variety of settings. As an avant-garde jazz pianist, he recorded with Spontaneous Music Ensemble; in the jazz fusion realm, he was a member of Gilgamesh and Paraphernalia; as a progressive rock keyboardist, he played with Gong, Baker Gurvitz Army, the Mike Oldfield Group, Seventh Wave, and In Cahoots. Sideman credits include work with Annette Peacock, Harry Beckett, and more.

Surprisingly, Local Colour – his debut recording – is Lemer's only album as a leader. Recorded in London in 1966, before jazz fusion or prog-rock even existed, it belongs in the collection of anyone who cares about the British jazz scene, and not only because of Lemer's talents. Everyone in this quintet went on to notable achievements. This was sax great John Surman's recording debut; he is now arguably the premiere British jazz saxophonist, with a prolific and much-praised discography. Chances to hear the also scintillating sax sound of the more obscure Nisar Ahmad Khan (AKA George Khan) in a jazz context are much rarer, though prog-rock fans may remember his appearance on Robert Wyatt's Ruth Is Stranger than Richard and his work with Cream lyricist Pete Brown and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Drummer Jon (then going by John) Hiseman had already established himself on the British jazz scene by co-founding the New Jazz Orchestra in 1964; two years after the Local Colour session he started Colosseum, one of the most successful British jazz-rock bands, and he even collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the musical Cats. Bassist Tony Reeves had had a hit single in 1965 with Sounds Orchestral ("Cast Your Fate to the Wind"); after a brief stint with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Reeves joined Hiseman in Colosseum; he was also a member of Greenslade and Curved Air in addition to session work with Fairport Convention singer Sandy Denny and guitarist John Martyn.

British pianist Peter Lemer is one of the U.K. jazz scene's primary links between '60s free jazz and '70s fusion, but his sole album as a leader, recorded in 1966, sticks closely to the former. Lemer, a former student of Paul Bley, opens the set with a rattling version of Carla Bley's "Ictus," then runs through a program of originals that run from fairly "out" ("City" has some absolutely frenzied free blowing by saxophonists Nisar Ahmad Khan and John Surman, accompanied at one point by Lemer banging on the top of his piano) to relatively restrained (the melody of "Frowville" wouldn't sound out of place on a Dave Brubeck album). Although Lemer's often highly rhythmic piano playing drives the band, Khan and Surman are the stars of the album, taking most of the solos. (The bass solo comes late in "In the Out" -- have your fast-forward finger ready accordingly, but don't miss the remarkable Khan/Surman duel right after.) Even the most experimental pieces, however, keep the traditional theme-solos-theme structure, so Local Colour is the sort of album that's useful for the free jazz novice. It's just traditional enough that it's not scary, but neither is it so traditional that it's boring. It's a shame this group didn't get a chance to record more.

Andrew Lloyd Webber - 1978 - Variations

Andrew Lloyd Webber

01. Introduction
02. Theme (Paganini Caprice In A Minor No.24) And Variations 1-4
03. Variations 5 And 6
04. Variation 7
05. Variation 8
06. Variation 9
07. Variation 10
08. Variations 11-15 (Including Tributes)
09. Variation 9
10. Variation 13-14 (Varied)
11. Variation 17
12. Variation 18
13. Variations 19, 20 And 5 (varied)
14. Variations 21 And 22
15. Variation 23

- Don Airey / Grand Piano, ARP Odyssey, Mini Moog, Solina String Ensemble, Fender Piano
- Rod Argent / Grand Piano, Mini Moog, Roland RS 202, Yamaha CS80
- Gary Moore / Guitars
- Barbara Thomson / Flute, Alto Flute, Tenor Saxophone
- Jon Hiseman / Arbiter Auto Tune Drums, Paiste Cymbals & Gongs, Percussion
- John Mole / Fender Precision Bass, Hayman Fretless Bass Guitar
- Julian Lloyd Webber / Cello
- Dave Caddick / Piano
- Phil Collins / Drums and Percussion
- Herbie Flowers / Bass
- Bill LeSage / Vibes
- Andrew Lloyd Webber / Synthesisers

"We've done the Electric Savage album, I think, with Colosseum II, and Andrew Lloyd Webber was with the same record company, MCA. He was in the offices one day, heard this music and said, "Oh, that's wonderful! Who's that?" They said, "It's a drummer called Jon Hiseman, he's got a band, Colosseum II", so he rang me up and said, "You don't know me, dear boy, but I've written this work for my brother Julian, on cello, and I need exactly that combination to do it, which would be interesting". So I went to his home, and he played the music for me on the piano, for an hour, explaining what would happen. I didn't remember much of it, but I went back to Gary and said, "This guy really know what he's doing, and I think we should get involved". Gary thought it was a bit weird, but he agreed because the guy was going to pay us well. We went in the studio for two weeks and made this album, called "Variations". After then, Gary went off and did his own thing, of course, because Colosseum II broke up, but I stayed with Andrew all the way through to Requiem. We - Rod Argent, myself, Barbara, John Mole - only ever did three weeks in the shows in London, the first three weeks, and then handed it over to people who did that for a living."
Jon Hiseman - November 2004

Consider this as a Colosseum II album with special guests, and music pre-composed by a promising young composer who had already written the world's first Rock Opera proper (Jesus Christ Superstar), and had, in all likelihood, inspired The Who to write their opus "Tommy" with his first Rock Operetta "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat".

This was not yet the writer of horrors like Cats, Phantom of the Opera et al, but a composer in the right place and time and with the right potential to have produced something great.

He was a bit late for Prog Rock's 1st wave, in which style this set is based, but that doesn't stop his Variations on a Theme of Paganini from being every bit a masterpiece as Rakhmaninov's - only a rock and roll version, ya dig?

It should be noted that the theme from Paganini's Caprice in A minor on which this set of Variations is built has also been variegated by composers and musicians as varied and notable as Schumann, Liszt, Brahms and Benny Goodman - so there are plenty of other sets to compare this one to.

Lloyd Webber's effort is not utterly flawless, but where it shines, it's the equal of the greatest prog tunes you can think of, and at it's worst, it's better than... well, I'd probably get into trouble for making direct comparisons, but I've heard Rick Wakeman produce worse material on more than one occasion, and at least Airey and Argent had the grace to keep the boxing gloves off, unlike certain Emersons of this world. And there's no equivalent of "More Fool Me" on here - in fact, hardly a note is wasted or used as filler.

In fact, in terms of execution, this album IS flawless - virtually every note perfectly in place, yet this is not a precision technical snorefest - it feels like a live rock band swinging into action; Nay! a PROG Rock band, as we have unusual instrumentation and a wide variety of styles making this a set of Variations that are arguably as good as those by any of the umpteen other composers who also wrote Variations on Paganini's Caprice - with blistering guitarwork from Gary Moore that wouldn't have impressed Paganini with it's speed, but would have blown his powdered wig off with it's intensity and smoked him out of his boots.

So, a long intro even by my standards - shall we get into the music?

A dark swirling mass of keyboards in the introduction gives way to the statement of the Caprice and Variations 1-4, AKA the theme to the South Bank Show (long- running UK TV show).

Julian Lloyd Webber leads the way with basic percussion - the juxtaposition of cello and drums works surprisingly well.

The lovely scrunchy piano entry that heralds the flute melody, seguing perfectly into a Moog squelchfest sets the scene for dramatically shifting music of a surprisingly wide pallete of tone colours and mini variations.

Variations 5 and 6 are a more acoustic affair, with an aching, wistful melody on the flute sensitively coloured by acoustic guitar and small electric guitar details, before opening into a broad, sweeping Cello theme... yes, you really can perform academic analysis on this music.

Variation 6 ends with a dark Moog using a low pedal to provide dramatic tension that builds amazingly into Variation 7, a complex riff fest with tight arhythmic percussion and atonal power chords in a brilliant prog rock style passage. The guitar solo that follows is the first nod towards the fireworks of Paganini, and is full of tension and dischord.

We mellow out a little with variation 8, and variation 9 is a more laid back, jazzy affair led by the sensual sax of Barbara Thompson.

Variation 10 appears to grow out of nowhere, with a spacey quality. The Cello takes the lead this time, with another wistful melody. The flute picks this up - and we can hear Lloyd Webbers show-tune writing abilities shining through.

While I'm not sure if the latter is a good thing or not, Variations 11-15 are more like it, with powerful guitar interspersed with keyboard, and twists and turns a-plenty. Despite the many tangents, Lloyd Webber expertly manages to maintain a coherent direction by keeping all the material related, and the twists and turns themselves morph into mini masterpieces that lesser bands would have dragged out for much longer - it seems you're just getting into one great idea, then everything changes. This is Variation writing as it was intended - and also Prog Rock as it should be played.

And now we allegedly return to Variation 16 - which is actually a variation of variation 7... Another delicious heavy riff is mashed up by Moog lines, then exposed and returned to. The main theme trickles through, but is broken down in a mini maelstrom of sound that maybe loses a little power by being so controlled and precise, but nevertheless maintains a momentum that is quite breathtaking. The ending to this variation is one of my favourite bits, so no spoilers here.

An alleged return to Variations 14-15 display yet more mastery at the form - earlier ideas are explored, developed, moved on from in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it-fest of compositional fireworks.

We then hop mysteriously into Variation 17. This is a Moog driven affair that sounds like it came out of the BBC Radiophonic workshop for an early episode of Dr Who - but loses nothing for it!

There were beautiful melodies in earlier variations, but Lloyd Webber has saved one of the best for Variation 18 - again taken up by his brother on the Cello with minimal backing from Moore and Mole. Around halfway through Moore takes up the melody and really shines with a wondrous guitar tone, but sadly the reins are returned to JLW to close the variation in syrupy style.

Next we have Variations 19, 20 and 6 (varied), another giddying, swirling demonstration of why this album is the Masterpiece I hold it to be. The main theme gets some prominence, but it is halted in its tracks before it can get going, and new material is presented before Variation 6 returns in majestrial glory.

But now I turn your attention swiftly to Variations 21 and 22. Gary Moore is allowed a free rein here, and dominates with aplomb. Variation 22 suddenly drops the music into a chasm with a surprisingly spacey sound given that the main instrument is the piano. Using motifs that hearken back to serialism, using quasi-cells or mini note- rows, flavours of Schoenberg create this dark feeling and underscore the fact that Lloyd Webber understood and had mastered a wide variety of compositional styles and had the potential to become a truly great composer of relevant art/rock material.

Variation 23 ends the set in pounding style, with Lloyd Webber turning in a performance that Paganini may have snickered at - but is most suitable for what is.

At the end of the day, this is a Prog Rock album with more than just pretensions to "Classical" music - it is rooted in just about every style contemporary in 1977/8 except punk rock and while it sounds "of its time", mainly due to the production, it is every bit as good as the Prog Rock album of your choice from 5 years earlier.

If you think Camel blended rock and orchestral well in "The Snow Goose" (which they did), Camel's sterling efforts pale into amateurish meandering in comparison to the masterful composisiton and arrangements presented here. Theme and Variations is one of the hardest compositional styles to master. This is a superb example of how it should be done.

Go Geddit - don't be ashamed to own this Andrew Lloyd Webber album!

Colosseum II - 1977 - War Dance

Colosseum II 
War Dance

01. Wardance (6:09)
02. Major Keys (5:18)
03. Put It This Way (3:42)
04. Castles (5:50)
05. Fighting Back (5:54)
06. The Inquisition (5:50)
07. Star Maiden / Mysterioso / Quasar (6:24)
08. Last Exit (3:30)

- Gary Moore / electric & acoustic guitars, vocals (4)
- Don Airey / Fender Rhodes, Steinway grand piano, ARP Odyssey, ARP Solina, Mini-Moog, Hammond organ, clavinet, tubular bells
- John Mole / bass
- Jon Hiseman / drums, percussion, gong, timpani, co-producer

Third and last album from Colosseum II (and yet hardly the weakest) with an unchanged line-up compared with ES, released the same year on the same label and a strange goofy house-cleaning glove dance artwork, Wardance closes Hiseman's forays into rock territory, as he will concentrate on jazz in the future.
Unleashing the beast inside the Colosseum, it enters a frenzy Wardance that's intricate and complex enough to Return To forever and buy the Brand X. Moore and Airey combine lead lines that could be slightly reminiscent of the Eleventh House or Isotope as well. The aptly-titled Major Keys plays with all kinds of them in a ultra funky mode, somewhere between Yes and GG. The following amusing wink to ES' Put It This Way now tells you otherwise, but the two tracks are fairly close to each other. One of the saddest things to see is that the group still resorted to having sung tracks, this time the awful Castles, and furthermore atrociously sung by Gary Moore (ES' Rivers was much better, partly because it was less cheesy, but Gary wasn't laughable there)

On the flipside, Fighting Talk is another typical hard-fusion track that were becoming Colosseum II's specialty and the two frontmen engage in a war of note exchanges and solos abound, while Hiseman keeps them hot and ready with his intense drumming. Actually his drumming is so tense, that it becomes a little too much for the music and certainly more so to unaccustomed ears and even if it fits the Spanish dramatic track called The Inquisition, one can't help but thinking that we're close to useless show of virtuosity: As Miles once said: "Why play so many notes?..... Just play the good ones". This is not to say that there are bad notes in Col II's music, but a lot of them are effectively probably not necessary, but nevertheless they're not wasted either. The spacey trilogy of Star Maiden/Quasar is definitely another Intergalactic Slut, but it's got its charms as do most (but not all) sluts. The three chapters are divided by space winds, and most likely written in the Mole/Moore/Airey order. Obviously the group sort of knew this was their last album and decided to go out on a BANG, with the aptly titled Last Exit, starting out slowly on Mole's bass growls over Hiseman's last triumphant tom bangings, but soon growing increasingly tense with dramatic Moore guitar solos and Airey synth underrlines and the endless crescendo finally stopped by... A fade-out.. if you can believe it!!!!!

Colosseum II - 1977 - Electric Savage

Colosseum II 
Electric Savage

01. Put It This Way (4:54)
02. All Skin And Bone (3:49)
03. Rivers (5:48)
04. The Scorch (6:02)
05. Lament (4:38)
06. Desperado (5:58)
07. Am I (4:15)
08. Intergalactic Strut (6:00)

- Gary Moore / guitars, vocals (3)
- Don Airey / Fender Rhodes, Steinway grand piano, ARP Odyssey, ARP Solina, Mini-Moog, Hammond organ, clavinet
- John Mole / bass
- Jon Hiseman / drums, tubular bells, Latin percussion, gong, producer

Two small changes in Colosseum II's second album: Neil Murray left the group to join National Health (I believe), replaced by unknown John Mole, and most important the group became an almost-instrumental beast, which for their kind of music fit them best. If I say Almost-instrumental, it's because Gary Moore sings on one track, sounding a bit like Steve Winwood, but let's face it, Colosseum II doesn't need a singer!! Coming with a bizarre electronic tribal neon artwork, Electric Savage heads further into RTF and Brand X fusion than ever before. If most of the music is still penned by Gary Moore, there is a tendency towards more democracy as Airey pens two himself, while Hiseman co-writes four.
Opening on Hackett-ian (solo) guitar lines, Put It This Way dives head first hard fusion filled with power riffs, Brand X-style. All Skin & Bone is a fantastic percussive track that uses the same Hackett-ian guitar and probably the album's highlight. Rivers is the only sung track of the album, and as mentioned above, it sounds like a Steve Winwood solo track. The group also had a more progressive slant and here The Scorch is the prime example of it, where the group moves through a series of rhythm pattern and moods, but mostly doing so in a fury, as would indicate the title. Very classical exit of this track and a brilliant quartet, especially Hiseman.

The flipside starts on the cheesy Lament, but it's not an over-ripe camembert, either, just a slightly pompous facet of their prog moods, a bit the logical continuation of Scorch. Next up, Desperado returns to the 100 MPH fusion of Brand X that we'd visited in the album opener. The album closes on two Airey compositions, the first is a great crescendoing airy (pun intended) track, where Don & Gary exchange wild leads on a mid-tempo and background synth layers, while its alter ego Intergalactic Strut shines among a thousand galaxy, hinting at RTF's seventh. If I say shine, there is a slight eclipse with

While it was not so obvious on SNF, Moore has more problems being himself on such a blatant jazz rock album, than he does on a blues or hard rock album, and here , he's more credible when either crunching riffs away or pulling blues wails from his axe, than really adding a jazzy blue note. When he does try, he seems either taken by Hackett or goes purelt classical. Incidentally.  Outside a few loonies (like Mooney), Hiseman's drumming is still miles ahead of many of his English peers (Bruford, Collins & Dunbar excepted) and he mixes himself a tad higher in the group's overall sound, but it's nothing shocking, on the contrary.. It even enhances his insane playing.

Colosseum II - 1976 - Strange New Flesh

Colosseum II 
Strange New Flesh

01. Dark Side Of The Moog (6:17)
02. Down To You (9:05)
03. Gemini And Leo (4:48)
04. Secret Places (3:59)
05. On Second Thoughts (7:30)
06. Winds (10:23)

Bonus tracks on 2005 remaster::
07. Castles Version 1. (Demo 1975) (11:09) *
08. Gary's Lament (Demo 1975) (7:00) *
09. Walking The Park (Demo 1975) (7:05) *

Bonus CD from 2005 remaster:
01. Night Creeper (Demo 1976) (3:46) *
02. The Awakening (Demo 1976) (11:43) *
03. Siren Song (Demo 1976) (6:55) *
04. Castles Version 2. (Demo 1976) (5:00) *
05. The Scorch (Demo 1976) (4:39) *
06. Rivers (Demo 1976) (4:27) *
07. Interplanetary Slut (Demo 1976) (5:32) *
08. Dark Side Of The Moog (Live #) (9:00)
09. Siren Song (Live #) (12:13)
10. The Awakening (Live #) (15:46)

* Previously unreleased
# BBC session, In Concert, June 1976

Mike Starrs / lead vocals (excl. bonus CD)
Gary Moore / guitars, vocals
Don Airey / Fender Rhodes, Steinway grand piano, ARP Odyssey, ARP Solina, Mini-Moog, Hammond organ, clavinet
Neil Murray / bass (excl. bonus CD)
Jon Hiseman / drums, percussion, timpani, gong, producer

John Mole / bass (bonus CD 2005)

First of all, for those who are not in the know, let's get one thing straight: in spite of the name, this outfit has very little to do with the original Colosseum - one of the seminal jazz-rock bands of the late '60s and early 70's - but for the presence of monster skinsman Jon Hiseman (so conveniently forgotten in those boring "best drummer" polls, where everybody seems to think that Mike Portnoy is God's gift to drumming...). Colosseum II, showcasing the amazing talents of keyboard maestro Don Airey (currently with Deep Purple, where he replaced one Mr Jon Lord) and, especially, the fiery fretboard prowess of then 22-year-old Gary Moore - one of THE guitar gods, whatever you may think of his later career - were definitely harder-edged than the band's former incarnation. Nowadays better known for having played with Whitesnake and Black Sabbath, bassist Neil Murray tends to be given less credit than other four-stringers - however, before joining Colosseum II, Murray had played bass with Canterbury outfit Gilgamesh, and would later join National Health, taking the place that should have been occupied by Richard Sinclair. The musical proficiency of somebody who can keep up with both Jon Hiseman and Pip Pyle cannot be so easily disregarded.
Unlike other jazz-rock bands, though, Colosseum II didn't start out as a purely instrumental outfit, enlisting the vocal talents of former Cozy Powell's Hammer vocalist Mike Starrs. For many people, the sometimes overpowering presence of Starrs's otherwise excellent vocals (which, at times, oddly remind me of a richer, more controlled version of James LaBrie) detracts from the overall instrumental brilliance of the album. Personally, I quite like Starrs's singing, but I must also admit to having a slight preference for the instrumental tracks - then, let's face it, Gary Moore's backing vocals can be rather excruciating. I love his guitar playing to bits, and in later years he developed quite a respectable singing voice - but at this stage he couldn't sing to save his life, as proved by the two following Colosseum II albums.

Moore wrote most of the tracks on the album, with the exception of the Joni Mitchell cover "Down to You" - apparently a strange choice, yet rather successful, especially owing to Mike Starrs' passionate vocal performarce and Moore's melodic guitar. The album, however, opens in a completely different vein, with the blistering keyboard and guitar tour de force that is the aptly-titled "Dark Side of the Moog". "Gemini and Leo" is a funkier, jazzier track, with Starrs sounding a bit like Glenn Hughes in his Trapeze years. The following tracks, "Secret Place" and On Second Thoughts" continue in much the same vein, all featuring superb interplay between the four virtuoso musicians, as well as soaring, powerful vocals. Hiseman and Murray's propulsive rythm section is masterful throughout, but Moore and Airey are the ones who really steal the show. Original album closer "Winds" is a 10-minute-plus epic that summarises all that's great about this record, at the same time jazzy and hard-edged, with complex rythm changes and THAT magnificent guitar sound.

The recently released expanded edition contains some real treats for lovers of the band, including some live tracks on the second CD (with a killer version of "Dark Side of the Moog") and quite a few unreleased demos of songs, part of which would end up on the band's following albums, "Electric Savage" and "Wardance" - notably the original versions of blistering, intricate "Intergalactic Strut" (here bearing the amusing title of "Interplanetary Slut") and of beautiful Moore showcase "Gary's Lament", with his guitar at its melodic,wistful best. Shredders of the world, please take note - there's a guy who can really make his instrument speak with an almost human voice. Highly recommended to all lovers of great musicianship combined with heart and soul.

Colosseum - 1970-08-22 - Ruisrock

August 22, 1970
Ruisrock Festival
Turku, Finland

01. Rope Ladder To The Moon (10:28)
02. The Machine Demands A Sacrifice (10:54)
03. Downhill And Shadows (12:11)
04. Lost Angeles  (11:29)
05. Walking in the Park (6:12)

Dick Heckstall Smith: sax
John Hiseman: drums
Dave " Clem" Clempson: guitar
Dave Greenslade. keyboards, vibes
Mark Clarke : bass
Chris Farlowe  : vocals

There's a lot happening in the world right now of tremendous historical importance for sure hence deserving of much attention, however I just read Clem Clempson's post on the passing of our friend Jon Hiseman, supreme drummer and overall musician, an intelligent man and true gentleman too. who contributed so much in various guises & outfits, to make the UK such a formidable force in the history of music, from cheerful "60's bubble gum" all the way to the most sophisticated Jazz and everything in between, him & his kit were behind it all. Rest in Peace.

Colosseum - 2014 - Time on Our Side

Time on Our Side

01. Safe As Houses (4:31)
02. Blues To Music (4:55)
03. The Way You Waved Goodbye (5:10)
04. Dick's Licks (4:28)
05. City Of Love (5:43)
06. Nowhere To Be Found (4:10)
07. You Just Don't Get It (6:28)
08. New Day (3:53)
09. Anno Domini (6:04)
10. Morning Story (7:22)

- Chris Farlowe / lead vocals
- David Clempson / guitar, keyboards, backing vocals
- Dave Greenslade / keyboards
- Barbara Thompson / tenor, soprano & baritone saxophones
- Mark Clarke / bass, vocals
- Jon Hiseman / drums

Colosseum’s last recorded offering Time On Your Side is looking forward as drummer John Hiseman, who co-founded the ground-breaking British group in 1968; “We never try to recreate the past,” This album has a unique sound that refuses to be painted with a music brush of any specific style; whilst encapsulating the album in a box firmly tied with Colosseum ribbon and given the bands stamp of approval.

Opening with a drum and Hammond duo, ‘Safe As Houses’; is hard-hitting lyrically with harmonious interludes and the saxophone from Barbara has a hard edge matching the poignancy of the story unfolding in the lyrics, the track has a distinctive 1960’s feel with its protests and rock mixing it up. Change of tempo and Colosseum tip their hat at the blues with Blues To Music; again the sax stands out and the harmonising of the duet vocals from Chris Farlowe whose association with Colosseum goes back a long way and writer of the track Ana Gracey who guests singing the track she wrote.

We had the blues inspired track now Dick’s Licks play homage to Jazz, with drum, keys and saxophone setting the mood before the vocals join in walking with you as the story is shaped that is recognizably a tribute to the late jazz blues saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith.
Clempson’s guitar has a quality that adds a zinging layer of tonal interest as the notes ping from bended string to swill and curl around the instrumentation linking joining and providing the perfect springboard for the vocals perfectly shown on the glorious track You Just Don’t Get It , well I get it! This is simply good music.

If you want a prog-rock sound that is reminiscent of previous Colosseum offerings then Anno Domini is the track for you here. Closing the album with a Jack Bruce cover from Harmony Row album, Morning Story is a fitting way to end the album with Farlowe’s vocals inspired as the band pay tribute to a man who was so influential to the British Blues and Jazz scene.

As the music unfolds you know this is an album that will intrigue and hold your musical interest. They have created a music inspired buffet of inspiration and influences, this is the plate that has blended and created a cohesive sound that suits your musical palette as it teases and shapes the sounds of Jazz, blues and at times classical baroque into an original and exciting sound that is R’N’B/rock and so much more. This is definitely an album you want to listen too again and again so sit back and enjoy.