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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 love jazz because when I was a kid pop music was bland, plain, uneventful until one day I heard a tune on a juke box entitled Jump Red Jump By Tenor Saxophonist Red Prysock brother of Arthur Prysock
I love jazz because when I was a kid pop music was bland, plain, uneventful until one day I heard a tune on a juke box entitled Jump Red Jump By Tenor Saxophonist Red Prysock brother of Arthur Prysock. It was love at first sight . This was when Blues, Soul / Gospel Style Music was becoming popular amongst kids as well as hip adults and featured Ray Charles, Big Joe Turner and The Payola era DJ's such as Alan Freed. Not many people remember that Freed's Rock n Roll Band of the 1950's was The Count Basie Orchestra featuring the Guy Singer Tony Bennett (Anthony DiBenedetto) who grew up in Astoria, NYNY right next to my Home Town Jackson Heights NYNY.
I was first exposed to jazz when I heard Red Prysock, Sam The Man Taylor & groups like the Chord Cats recording of Shaboom! It made the Crew Cuts look LAME! Now Jazz, Blues, Soul, Gospel was pretty much joined at the hip back then and I learned that the tasteful Music was featured on The African American Radio Stations which led me to DJ's Like The Bruce, Jocko Henderson, Tommy Dr. Jive Smalls and eventually Symphony Sid Torin, China Valles and Len Pace. This all took place during my high school years and the following years in NYNY and South Florida. I actually flew to Copenhagen Denmark in 1961 to see Stan Getz, (One of my top 3 heroes in the Music Bird, Pres & Getz not necessarily in that order). Sadly Getz had already left town and snuck back into NYNY where he played Birdland (Undoubtedly without a cabaret card due to smack addiction.) No problem for me as I worked for Pan American Airways at the time and enjoyed a 90% Employee Discount.
I met Thelonious Monk, Stan Kenton, Warne Marsh, Lenny Tristano, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Frank Foster, Dr. Lonnie Smith, among many others over the years.
The best show I ever attended was The Randall's Island Jazz Festival NYNY 1960. Monk & Edward Ellington Kennedy AKA Duke, starred among numerous others. I can not recall the entire Line Up but Monk brought along his Hat Collection which at the time contained I believe he told me 33 or 35 international Hats which he periodically changed often during his Solos. I have been unable to find that roster for that particular festival and since it was long ago I remember mostly Monk & Duke. Paul Gonsalvas played his legendary trademark twenty something chorus solo in between Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue which was outstanding.
The first jazz record I bought was Firstly, my Bro George was / is a Marine and he sent home his wax collection of LP's from Camp Pendleton CA before deploying to Okinawa in 1956 I think. Bird, Getz, Mulligan & Baker, Erroll Garner, Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Jazz at Newport 1956 and many more. I fell in love with Bird, Getz and Jeru & Chet for openers. Pres to my mind takes the all time Tenor Award and Budo, Piano etc.! However I digress Getz Long Island Sound and every other Getz record that I could find that was 1957 by then and I snuck in to Birdland for the First of many times before I was 18 ( Legal drinking age back then) It wasn't until just after my 18th Birthday that I was carded much to the bouncers chagrin as he recognized me as having being an established customer by then.
My advice to new listeners: Listen to the Music and keep it in the forefront not the background. A Local Band Leader whose name escapes me once said to me Jerry you can make time for the chicks later the Music is in the now and is more important than chicks ever will be. He was correct!
Next see live performances and introduce yourself to the Players most of whom will be respectful. Some, however, are unapproachable such as when I saw Miles so many times but his obvious disdain for certain fans was evident and he always walked off the stage after soloing. (Eddie Jefferson sang words to So What that so indicated this)!