Luna Kafé e-zine  Luna Kafé record review
flag England - Full Moon 136 - 10/26/07

Canterbury tails, continued

It's very tempting to combine the following albums in the same review although it's not the usual way to do it here at Luna Kafé. But the three artists involved have a shared history. They all lived in or around Canterbury in the first half of the 1960s and started their musical careers in a band called The Wilde Flowers in 1964. Well Hugh and Robert had an early start with Daevid Allen the previous year. Kevin and Robert went on to establish Soft Machine together with Daevid and Mike Ratledge in 1966. When Kevin left the band in 1968 Hugh replaced him. So here we are, 40 years later, and the three by now elderly men still have a lot to offer.

coverpic Kevin Ayers
The Unfairground
Lo-Max/Tuition

Kevin is the pop guy of the trio. This is his first studio album of new songs since Still Life With Guitar in 1992. In between we've seen the release of remastered CDs of his first 6 or 7 albums from the late 1960s and first half of the 1970s with bonus tracks (highly recommendable), the obligatory BBC sessions and the odd live album from recent years. 15 years and The Unfairground has surely been worth the wait. It includes ten new songs that can be compared with his best achievements off his aforementioned classic albums. Here is a nice blend of some happy and mostly melancholic songs, uplifting still the same, all of them! The production includes brass and/or strings ranging from something like dubious Mexican brass band to stringent Michael Nyman Band of those great Peter Greenaway film scores a decade or two ago. Well, almost. I guess those Spanish trumpets here and there are not everybody's cuppa tea. But we have to remember that Kevin has spent most of his time in Spain and southern France since the start of his musical career. "Shine A Light" is the only song not quite up to par, whereas the mystic "Brainstorm" is the only track to represent something new in the Ayers' catalogue. Spinechilling stuff! A most welcomed comeback.

coverpic Hugh Hopper
Numero D'Vol
Moonjune Records

This is the jazz guy of the trio and the by far the most productive of them in recent years. An introduction to his musical career - at least the first part of it - can be found in our article about one of the very first songs he wrote, Memories. Numero D'Vol is both the name of the album and the band/project. We're dealing with a quartet of experienced musicians that master the art of improvisation and experimentation. Simon Picard's saxophones and Steve Franklin's keyboards of the piano and floating kind are up front. Hugh's bass and the drums of Charles Hayward (ex This Heat) are less audible, though Hugh dominates the first half of "Bees Knees Man". And do we discern Hugh's characteristic fuzz-bass of his early Soft Machine heydays at the start of "Earwigs Enter"?

Being a simple small-town lad that appreciates his melodic pop music and finds the outskirts of rock interesting, Numero D'Vol is not my favourite album of the three. I guess this kind of innovative music will work a lot better for me in a small club than in my kitchen, car or living room. If I have to choose, I'd go for Hugh's efforts on the new album by Soft Machine Legacy.

coverpic Robert Wyatt
Comicopera
Domino Recording Co.

This is the one of a kind guy of the trio. His music ranges between the Wyatt kind of pop, jazz, rock(?), folk and blues. Robert has been quite productive lately. This is his third album in ten years and it's only four years since the last one, Cuckooland. The Unfairground might have been a suitable title for Robert's lyrical message for the last 30 years. He has been singing for peace and solidarity on earth, to little avail, so far, it seems. But he keeps on, on the new album, too, in addition to songs dealing with personal and domestic matters and problems in part one of the three parts of the disc.

Comicopera starts with "Stay Tuned", a song by Anja Garbarek featured on my favourite Anja album Smiling & Waving where Robert guested on one song, but not this one. A music journalist here in Norway recently suggested that being covered by Robert Wyatt must be the greatest honour a Norwegian musician has ever received. It's hard to disagree. Robert does what he usually does with his cover versions; he turns the song into his own. "Stay Tuned" is so fragile, sincere and beautiful as a Wyatt song can be - or any song for that matter. And in fact it sounds more characteristically Wyatt than several of his self penned on the new album. I haven't had the chance to listen as much and carefully to the album as it deserves [well, usually that's quite impossible with (almost) any album; think of the time and efforts the artist has put into the recordings compared to what an ignorant listener does]. So far I'm a little disappointed. But then we're dealing with the Wyatt standard. The majority of the 16 songs and instrumentals of Comicopera don't seem to be as heartbreaking as his classics on Rock Bottom, Dondestan, Shleep or Cuckooland. And his efforts to expand his sound with steeldrums, saxophone or vibraphone - the instrumental "On The Town Square" in particular - don't seem to work as well as I'd expected. As has been the case for several years by now, Robert is the only artist of the old school from the 1960s that still has complete musical and lyrical credibility and integrity, in my humble opinion. Let's hope we're in for a grower!


Conclusion

Hugh has to be the most innovative musician of the three involved here. Robert is the most sincere. Still, Kevin's album is the biggest surprise of the month. I've heard rumours of his recordings in studios on both sides of the Atlantic for several years. Eventually I thought he had given up music completely, for fishing. Also, his album is the link between the three of them. On The Unfairground he is helped out by twentysomething musicians, from Teenage Fanclub, Ladybug Transistor, Architecture in Helsinki, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elephant 6 etc. Hugh Hopper and the Wyattron are also credited. I guess the latter is manipulation of Robert's voice. Some of the songs are recorded at Phil Manzanera's Gallery Studios in London, where most of Comicopera was recorded, too. Phil also participates on both albums.

Copyright © 2007 JP e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Robert Wyatt articles/reviews: '68, Cuckooland, Different Every Time, Rock Bottom, Shleep.

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