The future of British jazz is in safe hands, writes Ana Gracey …

The Jazz Orchestra of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama performed Neil Ardley’s masterpiece “Kaleidoscope of Rainbows” along with other works from the golden age of British jazz-fusion at a concert given at their Silk Street campus this week.

Considered by many to be one of the Great British Jazz recordings of the 20th Century, “Kaleidoscope of Rainbows” was first recorded in 1976, featuring the cream of Britishjazz musicians including Barbara Thompson, Tony Coe, Ian Carr and Paul Buckmaster.

On its original release, Karl Dallas of the Melody Maker said:

“This work is possibly the most significant piece of composition since ‘Sgt.Pepper’, ‘Pet Sounds’, ‘Miles Ahead’ and ‘Tubular Bells’. Its beauty and sense of structure will mark it out in no uncertain terms as ONE OF THE GREAT MUSICAL ACHIEVEMENTS OF OUR AGE.” 

Neil Ardley’s widow donated many of his scores, comprising a diverse body of repertoire including many original compositions and arrangements of jazz standards, to the Guildhall for the students to advance their studies and playing experience.  The students played his historic piece from the 2002 version with updated orchestration.

Barbara Thompson

Guest of honour, Barbara Thompson (pictured above) from the original line-up perused her 1960s New Jazz Orchestra soprano sax and alto flute parts alongside the drum pad of her late husband, Jon Hiseman, before the concert began. The pair met in the NJO in 1965, aged 19, and went on to become one of the most successful musical couples of their time, collaborating on many projects over the course of six decades.

The suite’s seven movements, range in mood from sombre to effervescent providing an inspiring background for soloists and the fourteen-strong ensemble under the direction of Guildhall professors Scott Stroman and Martin Hathaway does not disappoint.

Under conductor Scott Stroman, The ‘Prologue’ starts dramatically with a deep bass pedal note, followed by a cascade of sound from Ed Rice on synthesiser. The musicians enter one by one creating a web of sound which moves without pause into ‘Rainbow One’. Brass and woodwind instruments state a strong, energetic theme then the band subsides as Finn Bradley improvises on trumpet.

‘Rainbow Two’ opens into a gentle, reflective theme with improvised solo on electric piano played by the excellent Jack Noke. Charles Watkins on bass clarinet aids the transition into ‘Rainbow Three’ in which the mood changes abruptly – providing the vehicle for Annalise Lam’s lively electric violin solo.

‘Rainbow Four’ opens with chattering woodwind instruments and Max Ellenberger plays homage to Barbara Thompson’s transcribed soprano solo, described by Ardley as his “favourite solo of all time”. It was this that prompted Manfred Man to approach her to play on his gold disc, ‘The Roaring Silence’ which marked the beginning of a long, musical collaboration with Thompson featured on many of his subsequent albums.

After a short pause we are plunged into a whirl of up-tempo instrumental lines in ‘Rainbow Five’. Charles Watkin’s clarinet whirls and dives until finally the energy dissipates into the sombre mood of ‘Rainbow Six’. Saxophonists Chris Adsett, Asha Parkinson, Max Ellenberger and flautist Maria Rehakova play the opening theme and are joined by Easel Kandola-McNicholas on guitar and Jack Noke on electric piano building up complex textures criss-crossed with dissonant lines. Finn Bradley’s muted trumpet joins the link passage into the final movement.

In ‘Rainbow Seven’ a strong 6/8 rhythm is established. It must be said that bass player Michael Dunlop, drummer Daniel Hester and percussionist Robbie Ellison play tastefully throughout and the latter’s vibraphone with counterpoint from the woodwind provide a shimmering backdrop to Easel Kandola-McNicholas’ guitar solo.

The ‘Epilogue’ reprises the music of the Prologue, which swells to a final, triumphant chord – the future of British jazz is in safe hands.


The second half of the concert saw the ensemble increase in size to full big band, with Martin Hathaway and Scott Stroman sharing the role of conductor.   More Neil Ardley compositions were featured alongside pieces by fellow composers from the British Big Band Jazz movement, including Mike Gibbs, Ian Carr, Mike Westbrook and the Canadian composer John WarrenMartin Hathaway’s own Many Happy Returns was also included, originally composed for John Warren’s 80th birthday.  Notable features from the big band included solos from Jacob Cooper, lead trombonist with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, Stefan Zane and George Jefford.

Kaleidoscope of Rainbows is a Dusk Fire Record, available this via this link