Album Review: For the Ghosts Within by Robert Wyatt
Excellent, Based on 9 Critics
The Guardian - 100 Based on rating 5/5
Robert Wyatt, that most eloquently lackadaisical of jazz-loving English troubadours, has made some unforgettable albums over his long solo career, but this will rank among the frontrunners. Mingling jazz standards such as Lush Life, In a Sentimental Mood and Round Midnight with a scattering of originals, and imaginatively arranged by violinist Ros Stephen for the poetic Gilad Atzmon's alto sax and clarinet and a string ensemble, it strikes a balance between tradition-observing musicality and Wyatt's knack for getting to the painful or joyous heart of things while sounding as if he has just dropped in off the street. From the moment Atzmon's vibrant alto curls around Wyatt's matter-of-fact delivery of Laura, through the microtonal clarinet intro to a vocal line mixing falsetto sounds with guttural contemplation on Lullaby for Irena, to the Sergeant Pepper-like quirkiness of electronics and vocal whimsy on Maryan, the session barely misses a beat.
It would seem a mistake to treat this release as a Robert Wyatt album for a number of reasons. The project had its roots in two collaborations between the Israeli-born saxophonist/clarinetist Gilad Atzmon and the British violinist Ros Stephen, the first being Atzmon’s involvement in Stephen’s Tango Siempre project and the second being the duo’s take on Charlie Parker’s 1950s recordings with strings (released on Atzmon’s album In Loving Memory of America). Then there is the fact that ...for the Ghosts Within is very clearly a collaborative effort between Atzmon, Stephen, and Wyatt, with each performer given ample space to add their own particular textures to these recordings.
When Bob Thiele and George David Weiss wrote “What a Wonderful World” in 1967, the man lined up to sing it was not Louis Armstrong, but Tony Bennett. Fate dropped it into the crinkly hands of Satchmo when Bennett — peddler of schmaltz that he is — vetoed the track on account of its sentimentality. Taking the same name (more or less) as a great Sam Cooke (and later Heman’s Hermits) hit from less than a decade before, by rights the song should have failed commercially and artistically, buckling under its own mawkish sogginess.
When The Guardian asked Robert Wyatt how he felt about the neologism "Wyatting"-- playing a weird song on a jukebox to freak out other patrons-- he noted that he doesn't try to disconcert people with his music; he tries to be normal. What constitutes "normal" for Wyatt is this: He was a titan of the Canterbury prog-rock scene in the 1960s before turning to jazz and experimental idioms, though he also had a big single in the 70s with a cover of the Monkees' "I'm a Believer". He's equally hard to pigeonhole via his diverse collaborators, including Brian Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Gilmour, Max Richter, Björk, and Hot Chip.
For the Ghosts Within, Robert Wyatt's collaboration with Gilad Atzmon and Ros Stephen, is a set of seven standards from jazz, theater, pop, and film, balanced by four provocative originals. Stephen recorded strings, double bass, and a scratch vocal first; Wyatt added proper ones later; and this was handed off to Atzmon, who added reeds, winds, electronics, and accordion, and produced the finished product. The process sounds cold and disembodied; the recording, anything but.
New Musical Express (NME) - 70 Based on rating 3.5/5
For two men famed as political firebrands, [b]Robert Wyatt[/b] and Israeli anti-Zionist and saxophonist [b]Gilad Atzmon[/b] certainly make a beautiful noise together. With violinist [b]Ros Stephen[/b] on board they revisit their collaboration on Wyatt’s ‘[b]Comicopera[/b]’ with this tear-stained lament for a world gone awry, its silky sax lines and strings inhabiting standards and Wyatt originals like spectres. The brooding Arabic-inflected title track stands out from the Jazz Age stuff, Wyatt’s vocals are as doleful as ever and ‘[b]What a Wonderful World[/b]’ is a perfectly wry kiss-off.[b]Chris Parkin[/b]Click here to get your copy of Wyatt/Atzmon/Stephen’s‘For The Ghosts Within’ from Rough Trade Shops.
Music is meditation for Brian Eno, so it's fitting that portions of Small Craft on a Milk Sea – a collaboration with guitarist Leo Abrahams and pianist Jon Hopkins – sound like they're circulating air at a day spa. Eno's textures stimulate the visual cortex, and though there are nod-offs ("Complex Heaven"), sonic shifts into louder realms ("2 Forms of Anger," "Bone Jump") balance it out. Eno shows up on Roxy Music chum Bryan Ferry's latest, along with former fellow bandmates Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay.
Wyatt remains at his best when he’s facing forwards rather than looking back. Sid Smith 2010 Having peppered his solo career with cover versions of material drawn from impressively diverse origins, Robert Wyatt, now in his mid-60s, here turns his attention to some great tunes from the jazz standards songbook as well as revamping a couple from his own back catalogue. Consequently, there’s a palpable sense of introspective reflection about much of the record.