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The last twelve months or so have been a giddying reissue bonanza for fans of British jazz from the '60s and '70s. A feast following a famine, of course, as most of the reissued music, much of it now on CD for first time, has been unavailable for over twenty years. That axis of key innovators and soloists from the era which was Neil Ardley/Michael Gibbs/Ian Carr/Don Rendell has been particularly well represented, with seminal albums resurfacing on Universal's Impressed strand and the independent reissue specialists BGO (Beat Goes On) and Ace Records.
So far, only the crème de la crème of Britjazz from the period has been made available again, with every resurfacing album more or less essential listening, and Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows is foursquare in that category. It sounds as fresh, as inventive and as exciting today as it must have done back in '76, first time 'round.
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 musicthere are three, count 'em, synthesisists herewhich 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 Bertleswith Buckmaster's electric cello on "Rainbow Three," Thompson's soprano on "Four," and Coe's clarinet on "Five" approaching the sublime.
With pin-sharp 24-bit remastering, and a solid twelve-page booklet which includes Ardley's original liner notes and an appreciation of his life and work (he died young, just over a year ago) by Barbara Thompson, Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows lives up to every myth that developed around it during its wilderness years. A landmark album in British jazz.
Personnel: Neil Ardley, director, synthesiser; Bob Bertles, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Paul Buckmaster, acoustic and electric cello; Ian Carr, trumpet, flugelhorn; Geoff Castle, electric piano, synthesiser; Tony Coe, tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Dave Macrae, electric piano, synthesiser; Roger Sellers, drums; Ken Shaw, guitar; Brian Smith, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, alto flute; Roger Sutton, bass guitar, electric bass; Barbara Thompson, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Trevor Tomkins, percussion, vibraphone. Stan Sulzman replaces Barbara Thompson on "Rainbow Two." John Taylor replaces Dave Macrae on "Rainbow Six" and "Rainbow Seven."
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.