RIYL: Derek Bailey, David Bowie, Tim Buckley, John Cale, Michael Chapman, Lol Coxhill, Davey Graham, Steve Gunn, Van Morrison, Louis Moholo, Mike Osborne, Lou Reed, Sonny Sharrock & Television. Mike Cooper wrote his final songwriter record, a suite of gloaming glam-rock anthems performed with a spiritual jazz trio, while living on the Costa Tropical of Granada, Spain, an era when he was considering retiring from music altogether. A chance encounter and a last-ditch record deal convinced him to make one last album, which he recorded in 1974 at Pathway Studios in London, with “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World,” featuring the inventive South African jazz rhythm section of Louis Moholo and Harry Miller with UK saxophonist Mike Osborne. This first-ever reissue includes a bonus CD of Milan Live Acoustic 2018, a previously unreleased solo set that represents Cooper’s return, after forty-four years pursuing free improvisation and electronics, to a new, deconstructed approach to singing, steel guitar, and songcraft. The deluxe LP+CD edition also features a six-panel insert with additional artwork and an essay by the artist about both records. The deluxe 2xCD gatefold edition features an eight-panel version of the same insert. In the wake of his magisterial triptych of early 1970s avant-folk-rock records Trout Steel (1970), Places I Know (1971), and The Machine Gun Co. (1972) the British songwriter, guitarist, and fledgling improviser Mike Cooper retreated to the Costa Tropical of Granada, Spain. With no prospects for touring or recording again, his fiery band the Machine Gun Co. had disintegrated. Cooper sets the scene in his liner notes of the first-ever reissue of his unjustly forgotten next album Life and Death in Paradise (1974): No one came running with offers of fame and riches, and we fell apart, and I left the country and headed for the beach, disillusioned and a bit disorientated musically. I went to Almuñécar in Andalusia, a place I had been going since 1969, because a painter friend from Reading, Rowland Fade who made the collage in the gatefold of my earlier album Trout Steel had moved there in 1968. It was in this synthetic coastal “paradise,” unmoored and adrift, considering retiring from music altogether, that he began tentatively writing new songs. A chance encounter with producer Tony Hall, who offered Cooper a last-ditch record deal on Hall’s nascent Fresh Air label, convinced him to make one last album with the stipulation that he could assemble what he called “The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.” I told Tony that I would do it if I could hire some of my South African jazz musician friends that I had used on my Pye/Dawn albums and some friends from Reading that I still knew and admired. I called up Harry Miller, Louis Moholo, and Mike Osborne, who were in fact a trio at the time … and several local Reading heroes, including the singer-songwriter Terry Clarke. The result, recorded live with minimal overdubbing at Pathway Studios in London, was Life and Death in Paradise, an utterly singular suite of gloaming glam-rock anthems performed with a spiritual jazz trio comprising the inventive South African jazz rhythm section of Moholo and Miller with UK saxophonist Osborne. Unlike anything else in Cooper’s extensive catalog. Fresh Air fizzled, and Life and Death became Cooper’s final record as a songwriter, having pushed the form as far as he could. Drifting north from Spain back to the UK, he fell into the scene of the London Musicians Collective (LMC) including Paul Burwell, David Toop, and saxophonist Lol Coxhill, Cooper’s bandmate in the Recedents and fully embraced free improvisation. He was still, however, interested in singing and lyrics, so, influenced by Tom Phillips, William Burroughs, and Brion Gysin, he began experimenting with text collage and cut-up techniques, arriving at his own hybrid compositional strategy for improvisatory songs. The previously unreleased solo set Milan Live Acoustic 2018 represents Cooper’s return, after more than four decades pursuing free improvisation and electronics, to a new, deconstructed approach to singing, lap steel guitar, and songcraft. Presented here together with Life and Death in Paradise, the two records provide fascinating bookends to Mike Cooper’s long, mercurial, and pioneering practice as a songmaker.