Neil Ardley is the Gil Evans of this project; there is no Miles Davis figure but the band features the cream of British jazz of the period. There is also an interesting rock component because the drummer is Jon Hiseman of the jazz-rock band Colosseum and the bassist Jack Bruce of Cream. I’ve always been amazed that Bruce found the time to do this session at a time when Cream was a very big band indeed. He plays very well in a totally different style.
The tunes include the jazz standards Naima and Nardis and the rest are by the British composers Howard Riley, Mike Taylor, Michel Garrick, Michel Gibbs, and Ardley himself for the title track.
The arrangements demonstrate again how beautiful orchestral jazz can be: the skirling flugelhorn and growing tuba offsetting soaring soprano saxophone. The arrangements are intricate and the playing warm and inventive. I’ve been playing the vinyl album for 46 year and have never tired of it.
Why am I’m writing about it now? Because the title track is now available on iTunes on a compliation disc (only that one, sadly): Impressed with Gilles Peterson, Vol 2. Ardley’s Le Déjeuner is a masterpiece. 7 min and 40 secs long; it has many shifting moods, developing as a classical piece does, rather than simply running thorough the changes. It’s wonderful to have this on the iPod: can we soon have the rest of the album, please?
PS. There is a live digital album of the NJO, Camden ’70 Live, playing most of the material from Le Déjeuner but it often sounds frantic and lacks the gorgeous precision of the original.