One of the more obscure but loftiest masterpieces of British jazz, composer Neil Ardley's long-form suite Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows was released on the tiny Gull Records label in 1976. Its beauty and vitality have remained absolutely unsullied by the passing years and the album has been reissued a couple of times, most recently on Dusk Fire in 2005. In March 2021, the album has been joined by a previously unreleased live recording made at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall a year earlier. Performed by the same twelve-strong lineup of star players, Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows Live '75 features a far longer score, at one hour and forty-two minutes twice the length of the studio edition. It is recognisably the same piece of music but a substantially different one, too, and not just in duration. And it is another stone masterpiece.
Ardley conceived the piece as the final part of a trilogy which began with the albums Greek Variations (Decca, 1970) and A Symphony Of Amaranths (Regal Zonophone, 1972). It takes a small element of musicin this case a five note Balinese scaleand expands it into a large construction. In his liner notes for the studio recording, Ardley wrote that he was intent on "integrating the warmth and individual feeling of improvised music with the formal beauty of composition to the benefit of both." Ardley was, of course, aware of other musicians' work and that is, perhaps, reflected on both Kaleidoscope albums' occasional intersections with Miles Davis' In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) and Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) and Terry Riley's In C (Columbia, 1968) and A Rainbow In Curved Air (Columbia, 1969). But Ardley's genius is his own and it is not compromised by such resonances.
The band is built around trumpeter Ian Carr's NucleusCarr, electric guitarist Kenny Shaw, electric pianist and synthesist Geoff Castle, drummer Roger Sellers, saxophonist Bob Bertles and bass guitarist Roger Suttonaugmented by saxophonists Brian Smith, Tony Coe and Barbara Thompson, electric pianist and synthesist Dave MacRae, cellist Paul Buckmaster and percussionist Trevor Tomkins. The 1976 album listed the soloists but, sadly, the new release omits them. With four saxophonists and two electric pianists, it would be good to know who is featured on which tune. Thompson's soprano saxophone solo on "Rainbow 4" on the studio album is one of the loveliest jazz solos you will ever hear on any instrument. That almost once in a lifetime experience is never quite equalled on the live album, but there are entrancing solos on trumpet (Carr), clarinet (Coe), electric guitar (Shaw), electric piano, flute and tenor saxophone.
Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows presented a seven-piece suite topped and tailed by a prologue and an epilogue. Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows Live '75 presents a nine-piece suite, with an intro, a prologue, an epilogue and an outro, and also with five interludes. Some of the "Rainbow"s are considerably longer than the studio versions, partly to accommodate extended solos. The live "Rainbow 1," for instance, lasts almost seventeen minutes (and includes deliciously rough-hewn trumpet and tenor saxophone outings), while the studio version is just over ten minutes. Two of the interludes are quite weighty pieces, particularly the trippy, going-on-eight-minutes "Interlude 2," which is a showcase for the electric pianists.
The Queen Elizabeth Hall itself almost certainly played a role in the concert's success. When full or nearly fullas it was for Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows Live '75the 900 seat auditorium is big and buzzy enough to make you feel like you are at an event of some magnitude, but small enough to foster a close connection with what is happening onstage. The applause at the end of the performance is ecstatic and prolonged and suggests that the energy level running between musicians and audience was considerable. Magic.
Ian Carr: trumpet, electric trumpet, flugelhorn;
Bob Bertles: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone;
Tony Coe: tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet;
Brian Smith: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute;
Barbara Thompson: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute;
Paul Buckmaster: cello;
Ken Shaw: electric guitar;
Geoff Castle: electric piano, synthesizer;
Dave MacRae: electric piano, synthesizer;
Roger Sutton: bass guitar;
Roger Sellers: drums, percussion;
Trevor Tomkins: percussion;
Neil Ardley: director.
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.