7. ROBERT WYATT – ROCK BOTTOM (1974)

ROBERT WYATT – ROCK BOTTOM (1974)

If  Rock Bottom were issued today, it would probably receive the flippant response that it was the only occasion in history when a couple performing their infantile private jokes has elicited anything other that irritated nausea. This would gravely short-change, not to mention insult,  both Robert Wyatt and his wife, Alfreda (Alfie) Benge; firstly because, as is well-documented, she had just supported him through the ordeal of paralysis from the waist down after falling from a window the previous year (with characteristic restraint,  Wyatt has since suggested the accident had a liberating effect on music he’d already largely written) but also because the record is genuinely – to use another debased adjective- awesome. The pet names and in-jokes that permeate the Alifib/Alifie medley are affectionate but also more than slightly unsettling, suggesting almost a regression to a childlike state, particularly as Gary Windo’s tenor sax scurries in like a venomous snake seeking prey. There’s another pair of twins in Little Red Riding/Robin Hood Hit The Road- the former in particular almost defies description, as Wyatt pleads “Oh stop it, stop it” and the whole song begins to run backwards like an engulfing mudslide and the matchless Ivor Cutler peers out of the sludge to taunt with talk of “lunchtea” and joining  a hedgehog in bursting tyres, and it all culminates in an endless fade of what sounds like an entire nation sounding a fanfare. In fact, it’s the trumpets of one man, Mongezi Feza, who would die of pneumonia the following year. Then there’s Sea Song, possibly the most aptly named song ever, its restful drift the sound of moorings slipped and shoreline receding further and further until things get choppy with a piano solo which matches Aladdin Sane for sweet discordance and Wyatt calls out wordlessly, not waving…
If Robert Wyatt is, as he once memorably described himself, a “gawping tourist of jazz”, Rock Bottom takes him- and the listener- to the jazz pyramids, Florence and Niagara Falls. Start packing now. (PG)
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