Robert Wyatt's status as a living English institution now equals that of, say, Stephen Fry. So much so, that there's a danger of the shy, self-effacing man being swamped by wearying hyperbole. But, just as you're about to surrender to cynicism, along comes something as wonderful as Around Robert Wyatt: a collaboration between the bearded one and Daniel Yvinec and his French ten-piece Orchestre. One listen and any doubts about Wyatt's are laid to rest.
The album does this is by taking Wyatt's compositions as well as his most famous cover versions (cf: Shipbuilding), re-casting them in a jazz setting. These expanded, joyous, limber explorations of the basic bones of Wyatt's work reveal structures that are both rock solid and light as a feather. Hardly surprising when you consider thay were all originally written and performed by a jazz fan, albeit one who never considered himself to be a 'proper' musician.
Highlights are pointlesss, but easy examples are Rokia Traore's incredible reading of Alifib. The child-speak of the Rock Bottom classic fits her mouth to a tee. The incredible duo of Yael Naim and Arno, balance delicacy with cartoon gruffness to highlight Wyatt and partner Alfreda Benge's unflinching look at their relationship, Just As You Are (from his Cuckooland album). And Daniel Darc's lounge version of the Matching Mole perennial, O Caroline which eventually lurches into Tom Waits noir? Believe me, it works.
Wyatt, himself, joins the throng on several pieces and his voice sounds rejuvenated by the experience, especially on the bonus version of his obscurity, Rangers In The Night, which benefits from modern looping techniques to achieve an other-worldliness. The Orchestre features players of outstanding calibre, especially the guitar and banjo of Pierre Perchaud who swoops, plunks and grinds. Yvinec's innovative arrangements leave enough room for the songs to breath again, buffing up material grown dull with over-familiarity.
If you've recently tired of Wyatt, or people banging on about how marvellous he is, get this album. Your faith will be restored. It deserves as much hyperbole as it can get.
1 The Song (feat. Robert Wyatt)
2 Alifib (feat. Rokia Traoré)
3 Just as You Are (feat. Yael Naïm, Arno)
4 Caroline (feat. Daniel Darc)
5 Kew Rhone (feat. Robert Wyatt)
6 Shipbuilding (feat. Yael Naïm)
8 Alliance (feat. Camille)
9 Vandalusia (feat. Robert Wyatt)
10 Del Mondo (feat. Irène Jacob)
11 Te Recuerdo Amanda (feat. Robert Wyatt)
12. P L A
14. Rangers In The Night
15.Just As You Are