Neil Ardley & The New Jazz Orchestra ‘On The Radio: BBC Sessions 1971’ (Dusk Fire) 4/5

Arguably the finest British jazz composer of his generation, Neil Ardley has been re-discovered by a whole new generation of listeners thanks to the pioneering efforts of the indie label Dusk Fire and this is the third instalment, following on from his finest work, ‘Le déjeuner sur l’herbe’ from 1968, and the lesser-known ‘Camden ’70’.

This recently unearthed recording originates from the BBC archives which are proving to be a mini treasure trove of cornucopias (does the BBC, for example, have the complete recordings of the late 1960s ‘Jazz Scene’ programme at their disposal? This might include live footage of Miles Davis from his November 1969 concert(s) at Ronnie Scott’s as well as the Mary Williams Trio at the same venue) and, while not on a par with the 1968 album, it is superior big band music all the same. Who other than Ardley would be ambitious enough to attempt interpreting a George Russell composition, ‘Stratusphunk’, which is the only group non-original. A personal favourite is the Mike Gibbs original, ‘Time Flowers’, augmented by strings, with the stunning use of flutes and larger brass ensemble, a fine trumpet solo, and yet still sounds contemporary with the use of electric guitar. Arguably, the strongest orchestral ensemble performance comes on the more sedate ‘Tanglewood ’67’, where the repetitive melody is re-emphasized and is closest to a more classical jazz big band sound, possibly inspired by the Gil Evans sound, though with a thoroughly modern twist that is an Ardley trademark. Here a subdued trumpet solo from, perhaps, Ian Carr, precedes a gorgeous soprano saxophone.

Challenging material, yet expertly delivered from a consummate composer and arranger, and performed by the very pinnacle of British jazz talent including Harry Beckett, Ian Carr, guitarist Dave Clempson, bassist Jeff Clyne, brass including Barbara Thompson and Mike Gibbs. On a few numbers, Humphrey Lyttleton introduces with his usual finesse and panache, which only enriches the listening experience. More of the BBC archives, please!

Tim Stenhouse