Neil Ardley — Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows: Live 1975
I remember my weekly visit to Derricks on Oxford street in Swansea in the same misty eyed way that I fondly recall visiting Martha's sweet shop for childhood treats such as Pink Shrimps, Sherbet dips Magic Wands and Frozen Jubbly's . By the time I was fifteen, my sweets of choice were Soft Machine, Return to Forever and for good measure, a bulging pick and mix bag of Jethro Tull.
Derricks was happy to feed my appetite and its homely ways invited visitors to taste the sweets and sample as many varieties as you liked. That is where I bought a copy of Neil Ardley's Kaleidoscope of Rainbows in 1976. Its flavoursome cover and distinct aural aroma immediately attracted me. Captured, paper bagged and expertly trussed; it joined my growing collection of Gull vinyl releases.
Gull was founded by Derek Everett, Monty Babson and David Howells in 1974. For a brief period, the label championed artists with a jazz background, who were utilizing some of the stylistic nuances associated with underground music, progressive rock and the emergence of jazz rock. For a pimple pitted teenager, there was a transitory moment when it seemed as if the almost unthinkable was about to happen and that jazz rock and fusion was in danger of becoming popular.
Gull released a number of jazz-rock albums which were generally well received by the pre-punk music critics of the NME, Sounds and Melody Maker. Nowadays, it is perhaps easy to underestimate the influence these publications had on the musical choices of the time. Gull had an impressive roster which also included such artists as If, Gary Boyle, Turning Point and Isotope.
Although, I sold my vinyl copy of Kaleidoscope long ago, a CD version has always had an important place on my shelves. Kaleidoscope is an outstanding album, where delicacy and subtle beauty all have a part to play. However, the facets that I probably like about it the best are its memorable nature and the concise cohesion of the many recurring themes and melodies. Even now after so many passing years, the beauty of Rainbow 2 still draws a sharp grasp of appreciation and massages my goose bumps each time I hear it.
The mix between improvisation and tightly spun sections throughout is near perfect. Barbara Thompson's improvised sax solo in Rainbow 4 must rank as one of the best ever captured in the studio.
Neil Ardley was a prolific author, proficient piano and sax player and a highly accomplished, composer and arranger. He was responsible for many of the highly successful Dorling Kindersley The Way Things Work series of books. He died in 2004 at the age of 66.
It was while Ardley was the director of the New Jazz Orchestra in 1964 that he became involved with many of the players who would have an important role in the cross over between jazz and rock which occurred in the UK in the late sixties and early seventies. This roll call included such notable musicians as Ian Carr, Barbara Thompson and Jon Hiseman.
Ardley's 1976 Kaleidoscope of Rainbows release featured many musicians who were working with Nucleus at the time. It is arguably, Ardley's magnificent skill as an arranger and the high level of empathy and sense of understanding between this core group of musicians which helps to provide the album with an identifiable sense of direction and cohesion.
A quick glance at the credits shows that the album featured some of the best players of the day. The high quality list of performers included, Ian Carr on trumpet and flugel horn, Roger Sutton on bass, Roger Sellers drums, Ken Shaw guitar and reed player Bob Bertles. They were also joined by Barbara Thompson, Dave Macrae and Geoff Castle keyboards, Trevor Tomkins percussion, vibraphone and Paul Buckmaster cello, Tony Coe clarinet, Brian Smith sax.
The album has many recurring themes and motifs and is built around the 'Balinese 5 note scale'. The original album was designed to present these themes using the analogy of a rainbow. In that way, just as the colours of a rainbow are linked yet distinct, so were the seven movements that made up the album. They were imaginatively titled Rainbow 1, Rainbow 2 etc. The foundation of the music upon the Balinese scale was introduced in the Prologue.
In the original cover notes Ardley explained the concept ''It occurred to me that constantly reworking a few notes (the five note scale of Balinese music) to form many different patterns of sound was like whirling a kaleidoscope to shift fragments of colour into ever new visual patterns, hence my title''.
A year before the studio album was recorded and released, Ardley took his project on tour under the auspices of the Contemporary Music Network. Remarkably the ensembles performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on the 20th October 1975 was captured on tape. The live performance of Kaleidoscope is over twice as long as studio album.
Neil Ardley's archived tape of that show has been released by the Jazz in Britain orgsnisation. The tape transfer was completed by John Thurlow and the album was produced by Matt Parker. They have done an extraordinary job given the limitations of the source material. Whilst the recording is obviously not perfect, it is on the whole very good. Any perceived deficiencies do not detract from the enjoyment and listening experience of the live performance.
Jazz in Britain have done magnificent work in archiving and gradually releasing a string of live performances or rare studio recordings of artists associated with progressive jazz in Britain in the 60s and 70s. Their recent releases include, The Solar Sessions by the Ian Carr Double Quintet. This album basically offers alternate versions of tunes from Nucleus' Solar Plexus album and is quite wonderful. Another notable release is The Ron Mathewson Tapes Vol. 1. This fascinating release features Allan Holdsworth, Ray Warleigh, Ron Mathewson and Bryan Spring. It is a must buy for anybody with a passing interest in the work of Holdsworth.
The live ensemble which performed Kaleidoscope contains the same members who would enter the studio a year later. It was great to hear Kaleidoscope in its extended state and presented as Ardley originally conceived the suite.
My main point of interest was to see how the suite translated to a live setting. As might be expected, the concise tightly spun nature that underpins much of the studio work is replaced by a much more inventive and looser feel in a live setting. There are many wonderful moments of improvisation and as a result whole thing has an exciting edgy feel.
However, this freedom to excite and explore is all underpinned by the huge work that must have been undertaken to take such a lengthy and accomplished suite to an audience. Within the parameters of the carefully arranged themes, there are glorious opportunities for the participants to show off their undoubted talent.
On listening to the live performance it occurred to me that Ardley's classic composition is indeed timeless and that it had lost none of its ability to stir the emotions, rattle the ears and colour the imagination. To hear Kaleidoscope performed in a different and at times unexpected manner was strange and journeyed me a little times unwillingly, far away from what I had become so accustomed to hearing over many years.
In this respect, the structure of the Interludes and in particular the avant nature of Interlude 5 offered the most disconcerting, obscure and unexpected diversions from what I was familiar with. Nevertheless it was easy to recognize, much of what was on offer in the Rainbow pieces, and the protracted sections brought a whole new dimension to the piece. To hear the suite with fresh ears in a totally different and extended context made the whole experience intriguing and very enjoyable.
As such, the outstanding improvised solo parts of the live performance in no way diminishes the importance of the original studio set, but rather they serve as a timely reminder the excellence of Ardley's work and of the suites enduring characteristics and great significance in helping to break genre barriers and merge the parameters that exist between different styles of music.
I will certainly listen to this outstanding live performance many times again. Thanks Jazz in Britain for all that you are doing in restoring these archives and bringing them into the public domain.
I highly recommend this album for anybody who has an interest in the development of progressive jazz, jazz rock and fusion in the UK during the 1970's.
It is simply quite remarkable !
Graham Costello's Strata — Second Lives
It's always difficult to compare albums by groups. Sometimes the bands style and sound does not really change a great deal; Caravan's first two album come to mind. Other bands might choose to adopt a noticeable shift in style, shown for example in the different approach by Jethro Tull in their This Was and Stand Up albums, or by the contrast between their Aqualung and Thick As A Brick releases.
Graham Costello's Obelisk was one of my favourite albums of 2018 and listening to it again recently, it felt as enjoyable and fresh to my ears as when I wrote enthusiastically about it for DPRP.
Any new release by Costello's band Strata is bound to be compared by many listeners with their outstanding debut. This is not really fair as the two albums are quite different stylistically and in this respect it would be like comparing Tull's Aqualung and Thick As A Brick or Zappa's Waka Jawaka with Zoot Allures.
In Strata's case, both of the ensemble's albums, which were conceived and created by Costello, are simply outstanding, but are also noticeably different to each other. Obelisk displayed its knuckle wrapping groove in a garland of rich instrumental colours. Its rhythmic nature and overall complexity was infectious and fascinating. It was easy to be seduced by its outgoing flamboyant characteristics.
Second Lives is overall a much more introspective affair. It displays many more shades of grey, but still has more than enough vibrant colourful exuberance to brighten up any grey skied day. When the need arises the ensemble are more than capable of exuding enough power and energy to shake the birthday cake stand, rattle the candles and roll any spilt crumbs into an abstract artistic shape.
It is arguably the great contrasts that present themselves over the course of the disc where, reflection and boisterousness, harmony and discord, elegance and coarseness, complexity and simplicity, all have a role to play, that make this release such a stimulating experience.
When Costello's intentions and inspiration for Second Lives are considered, it is not surprising that this album has so many contrasting shades. In the insert notes Costello states 'The inspiration and wider themes of Second Lives sit with thoughts of identity, heritage, stoicism, as well as the theme of overcoming inner challenges'. Certainly much of the music has a clear emotional pull and the use of recurring patterns and themes over the course of the albums compositions, only serve to emphasise that this is a highly personal and emotional work.
I particularly enjoyed the manner in which the album evolves and is sequenced to highlight changes in dynamics and tempo. Sparse slow paced pieces, minimalist in structure, yet oozing with feeling, are often followed by ferocious ensemble workouts where polyrhythms, rasping solos and cheek puffing riffs take it in turns to create pulsing beats and climatic crescendos of sound. This sort of approach gives the album an overall sense of balance that juxtaposes and integrates loud and quiet elements. In this respect, the whole album has a natural organic atmosphere that carefully incorporates animated and placid sentiments.
There is a great vibrancy to the recording and it has a wonderful fresh quality that is a noticeable feature of its finely crafted compositions. This no doubt is due to the fact that it was recorded as a fully analogue project. Costello is rightly proud of the fact, that what is presented was achieved in full takes with practically zero overdubs. When this is taken into account, it is little wonder, that everything about the album has a creative and refreshing edge.
The album contains four quite enchanting gentle and elegant tracks, အစ, Iris, Snowblind, and Second Lives. These pieces work well in their own right. However, when considered as sections within the work as a whole, they are simply quite outstanding.
The piano of Fergus McCreadie is prominent in အစ, Iris, and Second Lives. Iris is a sparse, but memorably gorgeous track. The timeless, spacious elegance of Iris is evidence that a composition does not have to be long or unduly complicated to be very effective. McCreadie has a captivating touch and his sensitive contribution in the languid pieces, plus the invention he shows in the more energetic tracks, undoubtedly provides a standout characteristic of the album.
The guitar of Joe Williamson has a conspicuous position in the equally beautiful Snowblind. Williamson is a tremendous player and his work with his own genre busting band Animal Society is well worth checking out. However in Strata's latest release his work is rather understated, providing layers and textures to the ensembles overall sound. In Snowblind his jangly flourishes, are expertly laden with a flotsam of discordant and unusual effects that break upon the dazzling snow shore with a regular swell and frothy aplomb.
There are many influences in Costello's work and he is not afraid to redefine boundaries normally associated with jazz. post rock, minimalism, cinematic ambience and the aroma of nu-jazz are all amongst the hints and tints present in Strata's delightful kaleidoscope of sounds.
Legion is a powerful and expressive tune. It begins with an impressive flurry of the drum kit and progresses in an unrestrained manner to combine the raw energy of punk jazz with the sophistication offered by complex drum patterns. It's a wonderful piece.
Harry Weir's frenetic sax parts are reminiscent of the sort of aggressive visceral approach, he adopts with Costello and trombonist Liam Shortall, in his role as leader of Aku. If you want to hear something that will rattle the window frames and challenge a host of preconceptions about jazz, then give their superb Blind Fury a spin. The belligerent playing and forceful riffing of Legion, also reminded me of the style of Echoes of Zoo, and their excellent Breakout album which was recently released.
The Colossus incorporates some of the themes and style of Legion into its tumultuous cauldron of sounds. Sparse percussive passages are intertwined with blistering ensemble segments. The whole piece draws to a fantastic cacophonous climax and a sudden ending. The swinging groove and memorable melody that evolved near the end of the piece reminded me of Zappa's Waka Jawaka.
One of my favourite tracks is Circularity. It is a fascinating loitering piece that is by turns mournful and enthralling. The skill of Costello is readily apparent in the superb percussive caresses and strokes that underpin much of the piece. The use of space between the notes is used to brilliant effect. There is something about the ensembles mix of instruments, which creates a unique and expressive voice. The manner in which they are superbly punctuated by clear and precise piano strikes in Circularity reminded me of the type of style perfected by the late great Keith Tippett in his ground breaking You Are Here I Am There release.
There are so many different elements to Impetu and I would have to listen to it many times before unlocking even a quarter of what it has to offer to fully discover what lies beneath its surface. On the face of it, it follows a similar forceful riff based path to Legion and The Colossus, but is arguably more tuneful and melodic. Everything works well and it's an absolute joy to listen to. During Impetu, the contribution of Costello is so impressive; it's just out of this world.
To say, that I have enjoyed Second Lives is an understatement, and I haven't even attempted to say anything about the melodic brilliance of Ataraxia, or the gentle soothing nature of the title track. I have not even said anything about the excellent involvement of bassist Mark Hendry or trombonist Liam Shortall who both contribute so much to the album's success.
Every aspect of Second Lives makes my mouth curl in delight. The range of influences it incorporates ensures that anybody who enjoys progressive music with a jazz pulse that reaches out in a number of directions will surely be smitten by its idiosyncratic approach and superlative musicianship.
Strata have an inventive approach and no doubt their next release will be different again. I just hope that I don't have to make a comparison between Obelisk, Second Lives and any future project.
That really would be almost impossible!
Tyler Kamen — Mr. Loon And His Spectacular Machine
Having a cover like this album and then opening the album with an intro that sounds exactly like a Pink Floyd album opener creates certain expectations. They match, I can tell you.
It's not all Floyd though, and although guitar-driven, most of the music has a good balance between guitar, bass, drums, keys, and spacy effects. It's the sum of all elements that count. The sum ends up in a melodic psychedelic mix that is both modern-sounding as reflecting elements from The Doors, Hawkwind, The Flower Kings, and perhaps most obviously Steve Hillage. Part of the album, especially the spoken parts but also the quirky, crazy sections, brought memories of Saga's Generation 13 in style and storytelling. Never getting too heavy. A touch of Zappa fusion here and there.
The whole album sounds like a concept album, telling a nice psychedelic story. Kamen's full voice sounds like a clearer version of Ian Anderson, not a bad thing at all.
His previous album Potions was reviewed here recently. My fellow team member Ignacio describes the different styles on that album. This album is more consistent in style so probably easier for you to determine whether this could be to your liking.
The drums sound a bit tinny and thin. Is that the result of being a one-mand band? If this could be performed on stage by a full band this could be quite the experience.
It's hard to mention single stand-out tracks. It's moments like the Floydian intro, Engine Trouble's excellent guitar-duet, the many intertwined melodies as in Visiting Dr. Swindlebeat, the melodic guitar solo in Floating Expectations that stand out. And that's just a few things to mention, the whole album is full of those.
The storytelling is a bit distracting sometimes to me and having a preference for longer psychedelic tracks that take you on a mind journey, the shorter songs and songlets bring me back to earth too often. But I have to say the whole thing is a very pleasant listen and kind of growing on me.
Mick Paul — Parallel Lives
Although Mick Paul has been musically active since the late 1970s his early work was mostly as a session bassist and only really gained greater prominence when he joined the David Cross Band in 1995. As well as holding down the bass end of the music, Paul was also responsible for the production of several of the band's albums and was active participant in writing the material. However, it was only while working on the David Cross and David Jackson album Another Day in 2018 that he found he was writing songs that were very personal to him that felt and would be more suitably released on a solo album rather than put forward as ideas for other musicians to develop and adapt within a band project.
The main musicians playing on the album along side Paul are, perhaps inevitably, all people who have passed through the ranks of the David Cross Band and include Sheila Maloney (piano, keyboards), Steve Roberts (drums, percussion) and Jinian Wilde (vocals). Paul himself obviously handles the bass performances but also a lot of the guitar work. Additionally Craig Blundell drums on two tracks, Paul Clark plays the heavier guitar parts on two songs while David Cross (violin), David Jackson (flutes, whistles), Dennis Mahon (vocals) and Geoff Winkworth (guitar) all appear on one track each (although they are all different tracks!)
From the beginning it is evident that Paul is an experienced producer as the album sounds great, a wonderfully clear mix with good separation between the instruments and a great balance across the spectrum. This is no more evident than on the closing instrumental Morning Skyline in which every layer of drums, keys, bass and guitar can be differentiated, even when Maloney, Clark and Paul are in the midst of their solos. It is also a fantastic piece of music! Similar can be said of the other song to which Clark adds his guitar, Name On You, although there is a more ominous feel to this piece with the driving bass and guitar instilling a sense of impending danger, added to by the vocals of Mahon.
In many ways the overall musical style is similar to solo material by Jakko Jakszyk, with the vocals on Comfort Zone and Uncharted Course being particularly rendolent. Although Paul has no need to prove his ability, one can't be failed to be impressed by his solo performance on Cypher which uses the full range of the fretboards on his bass and guitar in a delightful composition that highlights his proficiency. As for the the two biggest name guests who also shame the same first name, David Cross saws his way through No Horizon (not on the title track as the album's credits claim) which does have quite a King Crimson feel to it. Fellow David, Mr Jackson, keeps clear of the saxes and restricts himself to flute and whistles which perfectly embody the free flying, twisting and turning motions of the Swallows that give the track its name. Although graceful, there is a degree of playful urgency. Jackson's performance is perfectly enhanced by the various keyboards employed by Maloney with Roberts and Paul providing a solid rhythm.
Maloney is credited with co-writing three tracks with Paul, the aforementioned Comfort Zone and Swallows along with the title track Parallel Lives. This latter song is the only one sung by Paul who has a perfectly reasonable voice although not as strong as his guests, which he sensibly must have realised and limited his singing to the one that is most personal to him. Good to someone serving the song rather than the ego. I was surprised that Maloney was not one of the writers of Frozen Perspective, a more ambient, keyboard based piece that sounds more improvised than composed. It is in complete contrast to the rest of the album but weirdly doesn't sound out of place. Maloney's piano work on One Way Conversation also sounds like a fair degree of improvisation was used when it was laid down, as do some of Paul's guitar and bass parts. Whatever, the results are great and that is all that matters. The last guest, guitarist Geoff Winkworth, makes his appearance on Uncharted Course where his guitar sound is more distinctive then the other guitarists on the album. Unfortunately he is the only one of the collaborators not mentioned on Paul's website and other than a London music teacher I can find no further mention of Winkworth other than on this album! But whomever he is, his performance on this song is not overshadowed
It is true to say that there is not a duff song on this first solo album by Mick Paul. The experience of recording the album and the ensuing results must have satisfied the core musicians of Paul, Maloney, Roberts and Wilde as they have formed a band together called The Fae and are currently working on material for a debut album. If it is as good as Parallel Lives it will be something to look forward to.
VOLA — Witness
Denmark's VOLA have been pounding out their down tuned vibrations throughout Copenhagen's suburbs since around 2005, when vocalist/guitarist Asger Mygind and keyboard player Martin Werner met in music school. Bass player Nicolai Mogensen joined in 2009, and the bands current line up was completed in 2017 by drummer Adam Janzi.
Following the bands masterpiece of a debut, 2016's Inmazes, which was universally acclaimed by critics and fans alike, it was their follow up, 2019's Applause Of a Distant Crowd, that saw the four piece gain a huge amount of popularity. The latter album was far lighter then their debut, focusing more on vocal and keyboard melodies, rather than the razor sharp, guitar driven and precise onslaught of the debut.
Witness, falls somewhere between the two previous albums in style, though thankfully retains a lot of the best parts of both records. VOLA have retained their ability to construct mid-length, catchy progressive metal tunes, with tonnes of melody, yet have brought back some of the snarling aggression from their debut. This makes for possibly their most consistent album to date, an album which I'm quite sure will push their popularity even further this time around.
VOLA's style has been described as Meshuggah-lite. Though this is a little unfair as there is much more to the sound here. The main focus is often on thick, downtuned guitars with slow, groove like rhythms, but the band use keyboards in all sorts of ways to enhance the melodies and the songs. The guitar lines are often mirrored by a chunky synth patch, and the songs are thoroughly layered with lush strings and plenty of haunting atmosphere. The bass also plays a huge part in the heaviness of their sound, it's always at the forefront of each song, providing an extra layer to enhance the heaviness even further.
But it's vocalist Asger Mygind who has always been the most recognisable part of VOLA's sound. His voice is utterly unique, and quite unforgettable. He has the ability to sing the softest, most beautiful sections, followed by the most inhuman, guttural screams imaginable. And for those who are not perhaps a fan of screaming vocals, worry not, they are few and far between here. I must not forget drummer Adam Janzi, while this record has less technical parts then either of the previous albums, his powerful style is absolutely present throughout, and he is more than capable of letting rip when it's needed.
The songs themselves are almost all absolutely superb. Opening with the mammoth, Straight Lines, VOLA immediately hark back to their debut with a driving, guitar driven riff and a massive chorus. This is one of the more upbeat songs on the album and perfectly opens proceedings. The verses are incredibly haunting, the melody switching in an almost robot-like fashion, before that huge chorus hits.
Head Mounted Sideways was the albums first single, and arguably the heaviest song here. Again it reminds me of Inmazes with its pounding poly-rhythms and razor sharp guitars. 24 Light Years is another fantastic track, containing a beautiful instrumental section around half way through, allowing those keyboards I mentioned earlier to really shine, as they provide a lush backing to the guitars.
The middle and latter parts of the album also feature some of VOLA's best work to date. Freak is an almost Porcupine Tree style anthem, very reminiscent of the Lightbulb Sun era, while Napalm is more akin to the stronger material found on the Applause Of a Distant Crowd album. Future Bird is another more progressive piece, featuring another very strong chorus.
We then see another return to the growl of the earlier material with, Stone Leader Falling Down. This is a dark, brooding track, definitely the closest to the bands early demos, but still fits perfectly here. Inside Your Fur, while certainly not as strong of a track as what has come before, closes things nicely. This one just didn't hit me quite as much as some of the others, which is kind of a shame as it would have been nice to have a huge epic track to close such a strong album.
The only hiccup for me is, These Black Claws. This song sounds like Korn, around the year 2000, just after they'd ran out of ideas. To make things worse it contains a rather badly done rap section which doesn't fit the song, or the sound of the album, at all. Not sure what they were thinking here. The song is partially saved by a strong closing section and a reasonable chorus. I suppose it will be fun to sing along to this one live, but if they were going to explore new avenues, they could have done a lot better than this.
Despite this, Witness is a very, very good album and will almost certainly find a spot on my top ten of the year list. It's a far better album than their previous, and slightly more consistent than Inmazes, but only just. The mixing job from Jacob Hansen deserves a mention too, VOLA have always sounded great, but this album sounds absolutely magnificent from a production point of view.
Witness will no doubt please existing fans and bring many new ones into the world of VOLA. If you are new to these guys, this is a perfect place to start, just don't skip on their debut, that will always be my favourite.