I have much to thank Neil Ardley for. He wrote the manual that went with the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, that I initially purchased just to play chess on, but which led to my getting the programming bug, and ultimately a highly fulfilling career in software development. Later, having attained fatherhood, he turned up again as co-author of the famous 'How Things Work', with which I spent not a few delightful hours with my children. But, all that aside, what I would hope that Neil, Gawd rest 'is soul, is most remembered for is his music (sadly unlikely), and in particular his magnificent masterpiece, Kaleidoscope of Rainbows.
When it was released, in the mid 70s, I remember catching it on R3 and being fascinated enough to buy it. I suspect that I was still too musically immature to fully understand what an achievement it was, but I knew that I liked what I was hearing a lot. Having recently reacquired it I can genuinely say I am all the more impressed, and enjoying it as much, if not more, having had 30 odd years to hone my appreciation of jazz improvisation and classical form and counterpoint. 30 years later and having listened to a lot music, and being one who is particularly interested in what happens where the boundaries of musical genres collide, I can't think of a single example of anything that achieves such a perfectly blended equilibrium between, jazz, rock, classical and electronics.
The album is written for a medium sized jazz ensemble. Not a brassy big band, but a more flexible blend of jazz brass and wind, but with its backbone formed from a remarkably mature, given the era, electronic score, around which the other instruments are interwoven with extremely confident and capable counterpoint. So as well as being a showcase for some of the leading British jazz soloists of the time, Kaleidoscope is above all a superbly assured and entirely well formed composition. It consists of seven movements, as per the colours of the rainbow, each of a quite distinctive mood, but that interlock to form a perfect whole, without any weaknesses. Not a bar too many or too few at any point along the way
There are several solos on the album that are probably recording-career defining for the musicians concerned. Ian Carr on Trumpet; Barbara Thomson on Sax, three solos at her absolutely astonishing best; Tony Coe on clarinet; and a guy called Paul Buckmaster making the most astonishing sounds, and a superbly constructed solo, with an electrified cello. That is to just name a few personal favourites.
In all those intervening years, having seen jazz ensembles come and go, come together and split apart, I can think of nothing that matches this for ambition and elegance. It only remains for me to reiterate what other reviewers have said, which is that this is an essential purchase for any serious lover of jazz, for more reasons than can be stated in the space available.