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Review: Wyatt/Atzmon/Stephen - For The Ghosts Within

 

Album Cover - For The Ghosts Within
For The Ghosts Within
 Artist: Robert Wyatt, Gilad Atzmon, Ros Stephen
 Album: For The Ghosts Within
 Date of Release: 2010/10/11
 Label: Domino
 Cat. No.: wigcd263
 Other:  
 Country of Release: UK
 Genre/s: Jazz


 Sub-Genre/s: Vocal Jazz, Contemporary, Standards
 Type: Studio
   Time: 56:15
   Date of Review: 2010/10/17
   Contact:  
   Web Site: http://www.gilad.co.uk/
Domino Record Co. - For The Ghosts Within
   Sample Track The Ghosts Within by Gilad Atzmon

Buy track The Ghosts Within or others, or the complete album, as digital download!
   

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Wyatt/Atzmon/Stephen - For The Ghosts Within

Released on the Domino label on 11th October, 2010, and launched at London's Jazza Festival on 12th and 13th October, For The Ghosts Within is a collaboration among Robert Wyatt, Gilad Atzmon, and Ros Stephen.

Usually, when two geniuses of the colossal stature of Robert Wyatt and Gilad Atzmon come together, one of two outcomes is most likely. One is, a complete and utter disaster - not entirely uncommon. The other, as I'm glad to say is the case here, is a work of the highest artistic calibre and the greatest beauty. Here, this is further enhanced by the participation of a third, string genius Ros Stephen who provided all but two of the superlative string arrangements, as well as playing violin - both with and without her Sigamos String Quartet - and viola, providing backing vocals on a couple of tracks and contributing one of the original compositions.

Wyatt himself contributed two of the originals, one of them jointly with Atzmon and Shadia Mansour and Stormtrap, and he supplies the vocals on nine of the eleven tracks on the album, whistling on a further one, as well as backing vocals, brushes, percussion and trumpet on miscellaneous ones. Atzmon contributed a further original (the killer title track) and plays woodwinds and/or accordion on most tracks as well as handling overall musical production and programming. Lyrics for two of the originals come from the pen of gifted poet and Wyatt's long-time partner Alfreda Benge. They are as much responsible for the haunting quality of the songs as the music itself and the performance.

Seven of the eleven tracks are jazz standards. The album is effectively a song-cycle. While Wyatt does not call himself a jazzer, at least at heart he has always been one. For The Ghosts Within certainly is nothing if not a full-on vocal jazz album, and one of the most brilliant at that. Atzmon certainly insists Wyatt is a jazzman, and who are we to argue with the great man?

In the course of his long solo career there certainly has been no shortage of memorable albums by Wyatt. With For The Ghosts Within, he has undoubtedly come up with the most memorable of them all, indeed, the most unforgettable. Robert Wyatt, perhaps the greatest icon of prog rock, and indeed one of its fathers, all round guru and much-loved national treasure, humanist and genius, has reached what seems like his musical home turf with this album. But who would like to say where else the long journey may take him?

The combination of Wyatt, Atzmon and Stephen is a devastatingly creative and exquisite one. There is a perfect equilibrium here between tradition and musicality on the one hand, and Wyatt's simple earthiness and his almost uncanny ability to get down to the basics of things on the other.

Gilad Atzmon is the fiercest, most fiery and accomplished jazz improviser in over a generation; he is also the finest reed player of our time, and one of the greatest jazzers of all time, leading what has become the finest jazz band since Miles Davis' legendary first quintet, the Orient House Ensemble. For The Ghosts Within bears as much the stamp of Atzmon's genius as that of Wyatt's - this is a partnership of equals. Similar to Wyatt, every one of Atzmon's albums with his Orient House Ensemble has been unforgettable, but again, this offering has to rank right at the top with The Tide Has Changed, released a mere week earlier, and last year's In Loving Memory of America. For The Ghosts Within may even provide Atzmon with a double hit alongside his and his OHE's The Tide Has Changed, their tenth anniversary album.

Don't, however, underestimate Ros Stephen's contribution to this album. Her subtle, never exaggeratedly lush string arrangements, first heard on Atzmon's In Loving Memory of America, contribute to the artistic success of this album in equal measure as anything else. Furthermore, Stephen's and her Sigamos Quartet's string playing is also out of this world.

Wyatt is in fine voice and on top form throughout, singing on seven of the songs, whistling on another, and humming on yet another. A particular highlight here is the closer, What A Wonderful World. The total simplicity, even understatement, and sincerity with which Wyatt approaches this make it simply stunning and graceful. Other than Louis Armstrong's, I've never been able to bear anybody's interpretation of What A Wonderful World. Until Wyatt's came along. (And that of the outstanding Cleveland Watkiss, standing in for Wyatt, who no longer performs live, at the album's launch last Tuesday and Wednesday.) Also pay particular attention to Wyatt's cover of R&B band Chic's cover (on 1978's C'est Chic album) of At Last I Am Free. And Wyatt's whistling on Round Midnight is simply divine inspiration.

Atzmon can be heard on all tracks except What's New?, playing one or more of soprano and alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet (Bb), Palestinian shepherd's flute, and accordion. A bonus here is that we hear much more of Atzmon's simply gorgeous clarinet than usual, and also his fairly recently added bass clarinet is heard on record for the first time. Wherever and whatever axe Atzmon is playing, he plays on top of his form, with soaring, lyrical, elegant improvs as well as some stunning pyrotechnical displays. Watch out also for his haunting Palestinian shepherd's flute on the title track.

And that brings us to what is the killer track on this killer album. The most haunting and most hauntingly, achingly beautiful among all the achingly beautiful tracks, The Ghosts Within stands out even among all these standouts. The lead vocal here is taken by Atzmon's multi talented wife, Tali Atzmon, whose sublimely sensuous, yet assertive voice and whose utter conviction in her interpretation are completely hypnotic. While this song's exquisite lyrics deal with the plight of the Palestinian people, albeit not by name, it could serve as a universal anthem for all oppressed peoples everywhere and of all ages. Tali Atzmon's interpretation is simply exquisite, haunting, bewitching and almost other-worldly.

Another track to watch out for is Where Are They Now? with its superb rap furnished by Palestinian hip hop queen Shadia Mansour and Stormtrap (ex-Ramallah Underground).

Also to be heard on keyboards on two tracks is piano supremo Frank Harrison and on one master bassist Yaron Stavi (both of Atzmon's OHE). Also lending sterling support on most tracks is bassist Richard Pryce, and the superb bandoneon of Julian Rowlands can be heard on At Last I Am Free.

That For The Ghosts Within is a thoroughly consistent album can be taken as read. It is also much more than merely compelling. Wyatt/Atzmon/Stephen's For The Ghosts Within is by turns beguiling, enchanting, and exciting, and above all, exquisitely beautiful, achingly and hauntingly so, and totally addictive. I should not be too surprised if we should see a double or triple "A-side" single from this album. Equally, I should not be surprised if this glorious album should chart, and chart high, rapidly, thus making it the first new jazz album to do so in a very, very long time.

It goes without saying that Robert Wyatt/Gilad Atzmon/Ros Stephen's For The Ghosts Within is way past essential and an absolute must-have in any good jazz collection, any Robert Wyatt and/or prog rock collection, and even just any good music collection. This album is just to die for!
 

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Track List:

 1. Laura (Raksin/Mercer) - 4:42
     voice, brushes - Robert Wyatt
     alto sax - Gilad Atzmon
     strings - Sigamos String Quartet
     double bass - Richard Pryce
 2. Lullaby For Irena (Stephen/Benge) - 5:52
     voice - Robert Wyatt
     clarinet - Gilad Atzmon
     strings - Sigamos String Quartet
     double bass - Richard Pryce
     backing vocals - Tali Atzmon, Ros Stephen
 3. The Ghosts Within (Atzmon/Benge) - 7:48
     voice - Tali Atzmon
     soprano sax, bass clarinet, accordion, Palestinian shepherd's flute - Gilad Atzmon
     violin, viola - Ros Stephen
     keyboards - Frank Harrison
     double bass - Richard Pryce
     backing vocals - Tali Atzmon, Ros Stephen, Robert Wyatt
 4. Where Are They Now? (Wyatt, Atzmon / Shadia Mansour, Abboud Hashem) - 3:11
     voice - Stormtrap (Abboud Hashem)
     voice - Shadia Mansour
     voice - Robert Wyatt
     clarinet, saxes - Gilad Atzmon
     violin, viola - Ros Stephen
     keyboards - Frank Harrison
     double bass, electric bass - Yaron Stavi
 5. Maryan (Catherine/Wyatt) - 5:20
     voice, percussion - Robert Wyatt
     clarinet - Gilad Atzmon
     strings - Sigamos String Quartet
     double bass - Richard Pryce
 6. Round Midnight (T. Monk) - 5:46
     whistling, brushes - Robert Wyatt
     alto sax, accordion - Gilad Atzmon
     strings - Sigamos String Quartet
     keyboards - Frank Harrison
     double bass - Richard Pryce
     backing vocals - Tali Atzmon, Ros Stephen
 7. Lush Life (Strayhorn) - 6:46
     voice, trumpet, brushes - Robert Wyatt
     alto sax - Gilad Atzmon
     strings - Sigamos String Quartet
     double bass - Richard Pryce
 8. What's New (Haggard/Burke) - 3:06
     voice - Robert Wyatt
     strings - Sigamos String Quartet
 9. In A Sentimental Mood (Duke Ellington) - 5:47
     voice - Robert Wyatt
     clarinet - Gilad Atzmon
     strings - Sigamos String Quartet
10. At Last I Am Free (Edwards/Rogers) - 2:57
     voice - Robert Wyatt
     clarinets - Gilad Atzmon
     strings - Sigamos String Quartet
     bandoneon - Julian Rowlands
     double bass - Richard Pryce
11. What A Wonderful World (Thiele/Weiss) - 4:51
     voice, brushes - Robert Wyatt
     alto sax - Gilad Atzmon
     strings - Sigamos String Quartet
     double bass - Richard Pryce

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Credits:


Robert Wyatt - voice, whistling, percussion, brushes
Gilad Atzmon - soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet, accordion, Palestinian shepherd's flute
The Sigamos String Quartet:
  Ros Stephen - violin
  Tom Piggot-Smith - violin
  Rachel Robson - viola
  Daisy Vatalaro - cello
  with Richard Pryce - double bass
Tali Atzmon - voice
Frank Harrison - keyboards
Yaron Stavi - double bass and electric bass
Julian Rowlands - bandoneon

string arrangements by Ros Stephen
except tracks 8 & 11 by Jonathan Taylor



 

Purchasing Info:


For The Ghosts Within can be purchased:


From most general CD stores and online sources inc. Amazon UK

Also available as Audio CD + DVD
and Vinyl Album
 


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