Once drummer and vocalist with avant-rock ensemble The Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt is a rare exception to the rule that artists never produce their best work after departing their former employers. With a soft, sad voice he actually sounded older than he really was. Never forgetting his jazz roots, which became prominent in his group material, Wyatt crucially learned how to write and develop on strong material combined with some unique production techniques which made him more influential than he was originally given credit for. Despite this, Wyatt's best known work remains his interpretations of others. Happily, critical recognition has been all but secured now as he became curator of the recent Meltdown festival; taking over from last year's similarly revered incumbent Scott Walker.
Wyatt's first album as a solo artist was recorded in the aftermath of tragic circumstances; confined to a wheelchair after a fall from from a fourth-floor window. Some would choose to wallow in self-pity but Wyatt instead produced what remains arguably his best work yet. 1974's 'Rock Bottom' is a mesmerising journey that marries the hitherto unmatched worlds of jazz and rock into a crazily warped whole where relentless keyboard figures jostle for space with all manner of ideas, spoken word and effects. It all reaches a dazzling apex on 'Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road'; a kind of freeform jazz which appears to be being played backwards at the mid-point of the album with Wyatt's whimper battling valiantly to be heard against some aggressive trumpet work. Far from being mired into depression, the chorus of voices that concludes 'Sea Song' is relatively life-affirming. 'Alifib' and 'Alfie' seem half-formed in comparison but Wyatt manages to pull things round again on the Mike Oldfield-assisted 'Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road'. This is a very important recording that provides the missing link between Miles Davis and AR Kane.