ROBERT WYATT - End Of An Ear LP (CBS/1970)
I'm cheating here: I don't own the LP of this, just a mid-priced CD version I bought in New York in '99. On a Wyatt kick again, a guy I visit every six months or so for a fix. I raved on about him at length here, and don't really have the inclination to give a beginer's guide all over again. Suffice to say, there aren't too many records the guy's appeared on which aren't terrific, whether it's solo, with Soft Machine, Matching Mole or appearing on discs by the likes of Eno, Raincoats or Scritti Politti. End Of An Ear was his very first solo album, originally released in 1970, and it bridges the gap between his years in Soft Machine and Matching Mole. It's also the most experimental (though not the best; for me that's '85's Old Rottenhat) platter he ever released.
I was planning on keeping this short and sweet; you know, throw in a couple of comparisons, a recommendation and call it quits, and having just read Thom Jurek's unbelievably detailed yet well-written analysis at All Music Guide, I think I'll throw a couple of his sentences in for good measure. He goes:
"The titles reveal how personal the nature of these sound experiments can be. Wyatt, because of his association with many in the Canterbury scene, not the least of which is SM mate Elton Dean who prominently appears here, was learning alternate structures and syntax for harmony, as well as the myriad ways rhythm could play counterpoint to them in their own language. The interplay between Wyatt, bassist Neville Whitehead, cornet player Marc Charig, and alto man Dean on "To Nick Everyone" is astonishing. Wyatt creates time from the horn lines and then alters it according to Whitehead's counterpoint both to the formal line and the improvisations. Toward the end of the track, Wyatt's piano is dubbed in and he reveals just how expansive he views this new harmonic approach. The piano becomes a percussion instrument purely, a timekeeper in accordance with the bass, and the drums become counterpoint — in quadruple time — to everyone else in the band."
Umm... did ya get all that? I'll dumb it down a tad: Wyatt, at this juncture of his career, was traversing similar ground to that of the likes of Can, Tim Buckley, John Martyn and Miles Davis. All very different artists, of course, but all of whom were taking inspiration from avant-garde electronics (Stockhausen), free jazz (Ornette, Cecil Taylor), modern composition (Ligeti, Penderecki) and various world music found on labels like Folkways and Nonesuch Explorer. Miles and Can formulated a unique brand of cosmic funk; Buckley and Martyn augmented their vocal histrionics w/ excursions into dub, free jazz and various worldly influences. End Of An Ear doesn't delve into dub or other-worldly folk sounds; it's much more along the lines of '70s Miles or Tago Mago-period Can, a mixture of free jazz and what sound like tape cut-ups, musique concret and electronic studio trickery. It's a heady brew and a pretty "far-out" disc for its time, one which probably sold diddly-squat but was hep enough for the heads to give it a cult following which still continues today. Well worth the bother, of course.