More ambitious than anything he's done before while, at the same time, more interactive, intimate and live sounding, Comicopera represents another milestone for singer/songwriter Robert Wyatt. It's not just that he's using a larger group of musicians for the record, making for the broadest musical canvas yet; but this three act opera (of sorts) consolidates many of the personal, social and political issues that have occupied his work since Rock Bottom (Virgin, 1974).
Wyatt began his career as a drummer and vocalist for Soft Machine, but an accident in the early 1970s, after he'd left the British group, left him paralyzed from the waist down. Rather than the devastating blow such a tragedy would mean for most, Wyatt has remolded his career by learning a variety of musical instruments (and playing a percussion set-up that requires only his arms), and by evolving as a songwriter for whom there's little comparison. It isn't folk music, it isn't pop or rock music, it isn't jazz: it's simply Robert Wyatt music. Dealing with adversity as he has, one almost wonders if he'd have developed as such a distinctive artist had he not suffered the loss of his legs.
The first two acts consist largely of original music by Wyatt and longtime lyrical/life partner Alfie Benge, although the disc opens with Norwegian pop singer Anja Garbarek's "Stay Tuned, which acts as a dark overturerich in texture, melancholy in tone. From there the music incorporates relationship realism and pop simplicity ("Just as You Are ); the compositionally complex "You You, a subtle nod to his classic "The Moon in June featuring a brief but selfless solo by clarinetist Gilad Atzmon; the beginnings of distrust in "A.W.O.L, with Wyatt's trumpet meshing with trombonist Annie Whitehead; and a touch of swing on the instrumental "Anachronist While Wyatt's distinctive falsetto is heard throughout, it's balanced by more low-register singing than usual, and the fragility in his voice has never been more evocative.
The second act features the near-folk of "A Beautiful Peace, a cynical take on religion with the bluesy swing of "Be Serious, and a curious mix of steel pans, saxophone and garage guitar in "On the Town Square. Things turn darker still on the spare "Mob Rule, the paradoxically buoyant "A Beautiful War and more chaotic "Out of the Blue.
Wyatt shifts to singing in Italian and Spanish on material largely by Italian, Spanish and Cuban writers, as he searches for meaning in the world, closing with a brief reprisal of "Just as You Are ("Fragment ) and "Hasta Seimpre Comandante, a hymn to Che Guevara. Whether or not you agree with Wyatt's politics, it's impossible to ignore the understated power and rich concept of Comicopera. It's a near-cinematic song cycle that, at the end of the day, may be the closest thing to a pop album Wyatt's made. Still, its stylistic diversity and combination of well-conceived arrangements and unequivocal team playing make it one of the best records of his career.
Track Listing: ACT ONE (Lost in Noise): Stay Tuned, Just as You Are, You You, A.W.O.L., Anachronist; ACT TWO (The Here and Now): A Beautiful Peace, Be Serious, On the Town Square, Mob Rule, A Beautiful War, Out of the Blue; ACT THREE (Away With the Fairies): Del Mondo, Cancion de Julieta, Pastafari, Fragment, Hasta Siempre Comandante.
Personnel: Robert Wyatt: voice (1-7, 9-13, 16), piano (1, 2, 10), percussion (1, 5, 7, 8, 10, 13, 15), trumpet (1, 4), cornet (2, 3, 5, 8), keyboard (3, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15), old metronome (4), guitar (6), karenotron (i.e. voice of Karen Mantler) (10, 16), enotron (i.e. the voice of Brian Eno) (11), pocket trumpet (13), electrical interference (14), monicatron (i.e. the voice of Monica Vasconcelos (16); Brian Eno: keyboard (1), keyboard bass (11), effects (1); Seaming To: voice (1), clarinet (1); Annie Whitehead: trombone (1, 3, 5, 11), baritone horn (4); Yaron Stavi: bass violin (1, 2, 4-7, 11, 12); Monica Vasconcelos: voice (2, 15); Paul Weller: guitar (2, 7); Gilad Atzmon: saxophones (3, 5, 8), clarinet (3); Jamie Johnson: bass guitar (3), electrical interference (14); David Sinclair: piano (4); Phil Manzanera: guitar (6); Del Bartle: guitar (8); Orphy Robinson: steel pan (8), vibraphone (14); Alfie Benge: voice (11); Beverley Chadwick: baritone saxophone (11); Chucho Merchan: bass violin (13); Maurizio Camardi: saxophones (16); Alfonso Santimone: piano (16), keyboards (16); Alessandro Fedrigo: bass guitar (16); Paolo Vidaich: percussion (16); Gianni Bertoncini: drums (16).
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.