A lesser-known figure in the popular history of rock music, Robert Wyatt is as blitzing an innovator as Hendrix, and as blindingly intense. Soft Machine, the band he co-formed, and drummed for, in the late ‘60s, created jazz-rock fusion for Europe in the same way as Miles Davis did for the US, and as crucially and creatively, which is an achievement that cannot be underestimated. It is the equivalent, in physics, say, of something like splitting the atom.
Recently discovered tapes have produced the new Cuneiform release of ’68. Here, Wyatt is in contemplative, meditative mode, largely extemporaneous, creating segments that would go on to form Soft Machine’s releases Volume Two (Probe, 1969), and Third (Columbia, 1970). Wyatt was impetuously driven, as an artist and as a human. He would extrapolate from his inventions to the point of nebulous expansion, where things would buzz and break apart in his musical art.
’68 shows him in the studio, alone, at the start of his experimentation, where things are still peaceful, and take you into psychedelic, pastoral reveries of your own mind. They produce missing links, new pieces of the puzzle of his creative evolution. Of the two major cuts on the album, “Rivmic Melodies” would go on to form the bulk of Volume Two, and “Moon in June” would appear as Third’s exclusive vocal masterpiece.
As elements cast aside from the projects that would go on to form the group’s seminal achievements, they may seem minor; but as the underexposed, overlooked earlier phases of the works, they are just as revelatory, in their own ways, giving a glimpse into one of music’s greatest minds, and proffering new ways of looking at Western music.