Neil Ardley ‘A Symphony of Amaranths’ CD (Dusk Fire) 5/5

British composer and arranger, Neil Ardley, was one of the UK’s most creative jazz musicians with a panoramic vision of music more generally and the re-issue of this classic recording is a fitting tribute to the musician who passed away almost exactly nine years ago in 2004 aged sixty-seven. As part of the Universal ‘Impressed’ series, Ardley’s ‘Greek Variations’ gave a younger audience the opportunity to hear Ardley’s vision and it is to be hoped that at some stage a substantial anthology of Ardley’s work (‘Kaleidoscope of Rainbows’ from 1976 was recently re-issued on Vocalion) will be made available since his contribution to the British jazz scene has been underrated. What is striking about ‘A Symphony of Amaranaths’ is that in 1971 when it was originally released, it was the first album ever to be funded by an Arts Council grant. Among Neil Ardley’s influences, Duke Ellington and Gil Evans were primordial and go some way to explaining his orchestral approach to music. An impressionistic Western classical composer such as Debussy and Ravel almost certainly played their part also in crafting Ardley’s. While this is an album that needs to be heard in its entirety, perhaps as a series of suites like Holst’s ‘The Planets’, the most popular piece, ‘Will You Walk a Little Faster’, with vocals supplied by Norma Winstone no less, featured on the second volume of the ‘Impressed’ compilation devoted to modern British jazz. A stellar line up of musicians included Stan Tracey and Ardley himself on piano, trumpeter Harry Beckett and saxophonists Dick Heckstall-Smith and Barbara Thompson, among others, with the left-field cult figure of Ivor Cutler (a John Peel session fave) contributing his only highly distinctive narration.

Extensive notes from jazz writer and actual album musician, Dave Gelly, enhance the reader’s and listener’s appreciation of the music and original photos and press cuttings of the era bring the 41 year old recording back to life, not that the music itself had lost any of its vitality. Neil Ardley not only made music his sole creative focus, but he also wrote a series of successful books in science and technology aimed at children and was prolific, producing over a hundred titles. However, as far as the music is concerned, after an eight-year gap since ‘Greek Variations’ first became available on CD, the release of ‘A Symphony of Amaranths’ album, complete with digipak gatefold sleeve, is one of the most welcome re-issues of recent years and with a limited run of only 1000 copies, would urge you to act fast.

Tim Stenhouse