Robert Wyatt, that most eloquently lackadaisical of jazz-loving English troubadours, has made some unforgettable albums over his long solo career, but this will rank among the frontrunners. Mingling jazz standards such as Lush Life, In a Sentimental Mood and Round Midnight with a scattering of originals, and imaginatively arranged by violinist Ros Stephen for the poetic Gilad Atzmon's alto sax and clarinet and a string ensemble, it strikes a balance between tradition-observing musicality and Wyatt's knack for getting to the painful or joyous heart of things while sounding as if he has just dropped in off the street. From the moment Atzmon's vibrant alto curls around Wyatt's matter-of-fact delivery of Laura, through the microtonal clarinet intro to a vocal line mixing falsetto sounds with guttural contemplation on Lullaby for Irena, to the Sergeant Pepper-like quirkiness of electronics and vocal whimsy on Maryan, the session barely misses a beat. Wyatt offhandedly whistles his way through Round Midnight, plays movingly muted trumpet on Lush Life, and comes close to Louis Armstrong's Wonderful World for gratefully dazzled simplicity.
John Fordham is the Guardian's main jazz critic. He has written several books on the subject, reported on it for publications including Time Out, Sounds, Wire and Word, and contributed to documentaries for radio and TV. He is a former editor of Time Out, City Limits and Jazz UK, and regularly contributes to BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3