Initial descriptions of For the Ghosts Within focused on the fact that revered British art-rock musician, singer and composer Robert Wyatt was taking on jazz standards, a move that sounded intriguing enough. But that simple label doesn't begin to scratch the surface of this daring, adventurous album, a collaboration among Wyatt, saxophonist/composer Atzmon and violinist/composer Stephen.
Sure, the CD starts out with Wyatt wrapping his trademark voice around the standard "Laura." But that gives way soon to Atzmon's Moorish reed tones and French-cabaret accordion playing on "The Ghosts Within," an intoxicating meditation with guest lead vocals by Tali Atzmon. The album seems to present challenging collisions of musical styles. "Where Are They Now" is a saucy swing number with a rap by Palestinian guest artist Stormtrap (of the hip-hop collective Ramallah Underground).
Stephen's chamber-jazz arrangements for the Sigamos String Quartet provide deeply moving backdrops, often calling to mind the compositions of 19th-century composer Stephen Foster, for Wyatt's wounded vocals on standards "Lush Life," "What a Wonderful World" and "What's New."
Most endearing are the haunted clarinet on "In a Sentimental Mood" and Wyatt's whistled melody of "Round Midnight." Perhaps most surprising is a hypnotic cover of Chic's "At Last I Am Free." This recording is further evidence that Wyatt is one of today's most challenging composers, melding popular song and the avant-garde. He's a soul constantly in search of new collaborators and new sounds.