Soft Machine is one of those groups whose unceasing prowess was sufficient to rock any listener back on his or her heels, first a cleverly cerebral paisley pop somewhat-Barrettesque band (a la early Floyd, not Syd's inferior solo output) and then—by the landmark 3rd disc, Thirds—a leviathan of free jazz, prog, serialism, minimalism, neoclassical clatter, and kitchen cinque allsorts. This issuance of a long-lost 1971 concert literally, in the very first cut, explodes in an ecstasy of Coltranesque bliss then slowly organizes into the Softs' trademark genius jazz fusion.
Drop follows on a series of concert recordings that the Cuneiform label has been lavishing on a hungry prog public for many years, one after the other, masterpiece following masterpiece, and MoonJune, an even more impressive imprint, is adopting the practice, thank God. There's no such thing as too much Soft Machine, as the band was always historically in a roiling ferment. No matter how many times they may have covered their own basic materials, the result was ever a compelling exercise in shifting improv and sheer musicianship. Here, all the usual (Out-Bloody-Rageous, Neo Caliban Grides, etc.) is again covered and, as expected, every cut sounds as fresh as the very first time. The gents' frenetic interplay is astounding, the creativity breathtaking, but then Soft Machine never failed to deliver. Ever.
The late Elton Dean, to whom the disc is dedicated, blows like a madman, one of the true offspring of Coltrane, Rollins, Dolphy; Phil Howard pounds his skins with maniacal fury and endless pattern morphs; Mike Ratledge plies those electronic ivories in that completely unique fashion known only to him; and Hugh Hopper seems a chamber orchestra unto himself, fat bass notes coloring everything. Again, this is a live gig and re-demonstrates that everything committed by the band to LP in the studio, feats of acumen that seemed impossible, were perfectly within their power extemporaneously.
It's my assertion that Soft Machine has never received the recognition it has so richly deserved for decades now (though Steve Lake's notes in the liner go a helluva long ways in that direction). That's because the band still exists beyond the times, as do Circle, Anthony Braxton, Butch Morris, and others. Like Pharoah Sanders, Terry Riley, and Miles, the Softs often enough descended from stratospheric heights to provide a magic carpet back up into the skies, but, no, they've never really been properly cognized in their or our time, and will not be. Oddly, that's exactly the way it should remain. Some things must always tantalize and float beyond reach lest we grow too smug, self-satisfied, and cease reaching for what our visionaries lay down. Thus, I'm pretty sure that time of proper acclaim may not come at all. As the 2007 version of the band in Legacy Steam (here) demonstrates in a jaw-dropping continuance of the stellar materials begun long ago, no matter how hard the rest of us work to catch up, others are ever ahead of the pack.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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