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Neil Ardley - Harmony of the Spheres CD (album) cover

HARMONY OF THE SPHERES

Neil Ardley

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.46 | 10 ratings

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keg11v
4 stars I've been really surprised at how much flack this album seems to have received in review, including the sole review on this website prior to mine. Is it Ardley's most impactful work? Not for most people. Is it a singular effort from an accomplished composer who was exploring new horizons for himself? Absolutely, and to be sure, Ardley's characteristic subtleties with modal jazz still totally shine through in this album. For those coming to "jazz-rock" from more of a rock arena, let me recommend that you crank this album and simply let it ROCK, especially during the first and last portions-- trust me, you'll feel it. There is an established funky groove throughout most of this work, suited with heavy bass lines and tight syncopation that at times even conjures some of the heavier prog-funk, whether or not there is a direct influence. If you like the heavy combo of funk-rock rhythm section with wind instruments & synths as heard in the Nucleus/Soft Machine love-fest, you'll be right at home with this album, which features some of the same musicians. That being said, I'll admit that sometimes the synth-laden leads don't quite deliver the lushness and tonal breadth that we know they were capable of even in the late 1970's. Moreover, some of the best parts of the album are the rarer semi-improvisational sections featuring Nucleus and the power trio core of drums/bass/guitar, which can leave one wanting more. And so, people seem to decide the album doesn't quite fit in any hyphenated genre and dismiss it as half-assed, I guess. I disagree; In Harmony of the Spheres, Ardley presents a delicately composed milestone that not only covered new ground for him, but was certainly a valuable creative outgrowth of the fusions happening in the jazz and rock worlds of the late '70s. The synths aren't competing with the more traditional brass & woodwinds & keys here-- they're carrying them to new territory, or at least making a damned-good attempt to. Keep in mind also that Neil Ardley was a sort of modern day renaissance man, and was well into his alternate career of authoring introductory science books (of which he wrote and co-authored over 100). Featuring synth frequencies tuned to the actual harmonic ratios of the orbital periods of our solar system's planets, this album is something of a musical science project, and it reflects the awe and mystique that has surely imbued our perception of the heavens since at least the Pythagoreans of ancient Greece. This isn't a guy honing his band's improv skills with thousands of hours on stage, but rather a naturalist composing tributes to our cosmos with all the musical tools at his disposal at the time. Harmony of the Spheres, while side-stepping the blistering, overdriven, and frenetic improvisation of some of its peers, is still a unique contribution to jazz-rock, patiently balancing the sophisticated textures of the former with the tight, grooving rhythms of the latter. In the sea of all-but-forgotten prog gems, this album is far less derivative than many and deserves a solid listen-through by any prog fan.
keg11v | 4/5 |

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