Wyatt, Atzmon & Stephen Wyatt, Atzmon & StephenFor The Ghosts Within
One piece of proof of Robert Wyatt’s greatness is his ability to stay sounding like himself despite surrounding himself with musicians of very different natures. It’s the ability to blend in, to be like a chameleon, whose key job is to let those around him play the starring roles: he lets them employ all their potential and then comfortably ascends the stage they offer him. It’s true that, in the end, it’s almost always his unmistakable voice that tempers bedlam of different kinds of music, that unifies all the registers at play, bringing coherence to such adventurous records as “Cuckooland” (03) and “Comicopera” (07), his two releases over the past decade. In fact, his voice has so much power that he is capable of making all kinds of productions, be they from kindred spirits like Pascal Comelade or Anja Garbarek, disciples such as Björk, Hot Chip or Barbara Morgenstern, and heavyweights like Bertrand Burgalat, his own, adding value in the process: in all cases Robert Wyatt is, most of all, Robert Wyatt.
But it’s also true that he usually picks his partners according to his own interests: the scene isn’t set up completely randomly, there is always a certain intention, a palette of colours with which the British bard (who is a painter too, by the way) wants to work. And on the aforementioned records the tone of that palette was of lively colours and Latin airs (especially on “Comicopera”, of which they last part was sung almost completely in Spanish, from adapted poems by Carlos Puebla and García Lorca), it seems like with Wyatt becoming older he has become more classic and sentimental. Half-lit melodies, salon jazz, little chamber music pieces and a curious melancholic spirit rule the “cycle of songs” comprising “The Ghosts Within”. Its a record for which he has found two travel partners to help him with that particular interpretation of jazz he had in mind: Gilad Atzmon, exceptional saxophone and clarinet player who has accompanied Wyatt before, and Ros Stephen, violinist and director of the Sigamos String Quartet.
It’s a choice that seems ideal from the first song, “ Laura”, which opens with trembling strings, in a cinematographic mood, which promptly simmers down to adopt the shape of silky and smouldering jazz, very fifties-like. An almost ethereal base over which Wyatt’s voice and Atzmon’s sax float in exquisite harmony and which advances the autumnal tone that sounds throughout the album. An album which on its first part, composed by the three of them (with the occasional help of Wyatt’s wife, Alfreda Benge), explores paths close to that of the torch song (“ Lullaby For Irena”), sonorities that start out leaning on the East, touch on the form of a hymn and end up immersed in the spirit of tango (the complex, splendid “ The Ghosts Within”) and light songs that become complex in a marvellous way (“ Maryan”). All this happens during a first part that also contains the only weak point of the album, “ Where Are They Now?”, a kind of street jazz, multicultural and restless, finished off with the hip-hop phrasing of Ramallah Underground vocalist Stormtrap, which breaks the carefully established mood of the record without contributing anything in return.
In the second part of “The Ghosts Within”, jazz standards dominate, played in a heartfelt and light way, with such classy details as the choruses and whistles that form Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight”, the disarming simplicity of Bob Haggart’s “What's new?” or the neo-classical moods that shape Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood”. A phantasmagoric cover, full of melancholy, of “At Last I Am Free” (by Chic, as it’s not all going to be classic jazz) and a revision of “What A Wonderfuld World” that is pure silk, close one of the most intimate and magical albums of the season. Big words.