“Oh, no. I don’t really like disconcerting people. Although often when I try to be normal I disconcert anyway.” ~Robert Wyatt, in the Guardian U.K.(http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1816709,00.html), on the topic of “Wyatting”
In truth, Robert Wyatt is an accessible person. Though his surname has been co-opted as a verb to describe a music snob’s idea(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Wyatt#.22Wyatting.22) of a practical joke, the prog rock/free jazz icon himself is accommodating in terms of his work style. Wyatt left the land of compromise — i.e., touring and recording bands, such as the seminal Soft Machine and the prematurely disbanded Matching Mole — after experiencing a paralyzing accident more than thirty years ago, but he consistently employs collaboration to realize his ideas. Frequently working one-on-one with the collaborator, he tailors the conditions to his partner’s preferences; call it simplified compromise. So it seems misguided to liken Wyatt to an enigma or an irritant.
How appropriate, then, that Wyatt has made the jump to über-now Domino Records (home to such hip-makers as Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy). Following an unfortunate fallout with his long-time label, Rykodisc, after its recent acquisition, Wyatt now finds himself accessible to a new generation of listeners. And for this re-introduction, he has chosen a meaty role: a self-described “opera” entitled Comicopera.
A natural follow-up to his collaborative opera Welcome to the Voice, with Steve Nieve and Muriel Teodori, Comicopera also features characters singing narratives. However, although Wyatt divides the album into three acts — “Lost in Noise,” “The Here and the Now,” and “Away with the Fairies” — his themes are mostly arbitrary and function to string together his off-the-cuff observations. As he makes clear in the informative interview on the album’s micro-site(http://www.dominorecordco.com/robertwyatt), his album-making process is more a result of a “critical mass” of plausible ideas than a conventional, linear narrative. That said, a day in the life of Robert Wyatt is an ostensibly fascinating one, and Comicopera delivers the news with a welcome smile.
Wyatt makes this possible by coordinating the contributions of his cast of thousands, including both long-time collaborators (Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera and Paul Weller, as well as dutiful side players like bassist Yaron Stavi, brass player Annie Whitehead, and saxophonist Gilad Atzmon) and fresh faces (Brazilian singer Monica Vasconcelos(http://www.monicavasconcelos.com/), with whom he collaborated previously on her album Hih(http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=248434117), and the “Dancefloor Bjork” Seaming To(http://www.myspace.com/seaming)). Perhaps most welcome of the collaborators is Wyatt’s longtime personal and artistic partner Alfie Benge, with whom Wyatt has produced many of his most memorable choons. For example, on “Out of the Blue,” Benge takes the perspective of a bombing victim, which provides a cold counterpoint to the ironic zeal of Wyatt and Eno’s Slim Pickens-reminiscent “A Beautiful Day.”
However, like so many singular artists, Wyatt’s presence spans the record and ultimately gives it its necessary gel. His multi-octave voice booms, croons, and cracks across the album with stunning clarity and consistency. That the last third of the record switches to Italian and Spanish, and even closes with Carlos Puebla’s classic Che-anthem “Hasta Siempre Comandante” barely raises an eyebrow as Wyatt sings with remarkable ease. Thus, Comicopera demonstrates Wyatt’s broad faculty and empathy with music: from the loose and tender reading of Anja Garbarek’s “Stay Tuned” to the ironically clip-clopping “A Beautiful Peace” to the tropical sunset improv on “On the Town Square,” he moves effortlessly from idea to idea. Such unity makes Comicopera a welcome reminder of why Wyatt remains so essential in the pop canon.