Robert Wyatt — '68
(Cuneiform Rune 375, 1968/2013, CD)
by Jeff Melton, 2013-10-19:After Soft Machine’s first American tour both Kevin Ayers and Mike Ratledge hurried on back to Europe to lick their wounds while Robert Wyatt stayed on in the US with friends. Opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience on a national tour had been a rewarding and exhausting series of events for the group. The band was well received on tour as freaky openers despite the disappointing fact the ABC/Probe records failed to release their first album in the US. Undaunted, Wyatt had been working on some new material which he was committed to getting down in the studio. The Cuneiform label (together with a few supportive friends including bassist Michael Clare) have carefully assembled the most complete audio picture of this time period. Two big pieces appear for the first time intact: “Rivmic Melodies” and “Moon in June.” Between recording locales in LA and New York, the composer laid down much more than just rough demos of his music. By playing organ, piano, bass and drums as well as singing lead and backing harmonies, it is remarkable that the man had so much of the songs together by himself, which is perhaps the clearest testament to his drive and creative spirit. “Rivmic Melodies” showcases the composer continuing on his unique brand of British whimsy which a goofier recitation of the whole of the British alphabet. The opening cut, “Chelsa,” is the lost treasure of the collection which uses a familiar chord structure Wyatt would use again later on the track “Signed Curtain” from first Matching Mole album. “Slow Walking Talk” with Hendrix on bass shows the singer’s familiarity with the blues and serves as a nice change of pace from the other multi-part tracks. Overall it’s an essential early piece of the Canterbury puzzle and a must have for any Soft Machine and Wyatt enthusiast.
by Jon Davis, 2013-10-25:This is one of the most amazing archival releases of "lost" music ever presented, at least for Soft Machine fans. I always thought of the first two Softs albums as the first phase of the band, with their vocal tunes and psychedelic sound. I wasn't initially aware that the band actually broke up after their first US tour in support of Jimi Hendrix (which took place before the first album was even released). Before returning to England, facing a future without a band, Wyatt recorded a bunch of material, both newly composed and reworked from older material, some dating from many years previous. According to the wonderful liner notes, Wyatt then returned to England to find many people wanting more Soft Machine, so much of his demo material found its way into the new band's repertoire. In particular, the idea of long suites consisting of fragments of varying length finds its first expression in "Rivmic Melodies," presented here in different form than would later comprise side one of Volume Two, though with the same basic plan. The other long suite is "Moon in June," which wouldn't resurface until Third. Barring some parts later added by Hugh Hopper and Mike Ratledge in the second half of "Moon in June" — the demos were recorded with empty spots for their parts — Wyatt sings and plays all the instruments himself, mostly drums, piano, and organ. Brian Hopper's tune "Slow Walkin' Talk" features an appearance by Hendrix on bass. Among the many astounding factors of '68 is how thoroughly great it sounds, from the basic quality of the recording to the skill of Wyatt's performances. And the story told in the booklet is completely charming, as Wyatt is clearly amused by his inability to remember details from that long-ago time. This is 47 minutes of pure magic, and the world is a better place for having it available.
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