FAME Review: Soft Machine - Floating World Live
Soft Machine - Floating World Live

Floating World Live

Soft Machine

Moonjune Records - MJR-007

Available from Moonjune Records.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Soft Machine went through so many changes. Starting out as sophisticated semi-cabaret progpop outfit, it, after two landmark releases still almost baffling in their corrupted orthodoxy, took a sharp left turn and became a progressive goliath with deep roots in Terry Riley, Miles Davis' burgeoning fusion, Ornette Coleman, and the upended anarchism of progrock. Every one of the members (Mike Ratledge - keyboards, Elton Dean - winds, Hugh Hopper - bass, Robert Wyatt - drums) was a daunting virtuoso capable of mindbending chops and numbingly abstract cerebration, but groups rarely remain intact, and Soft Machine Mark II ended when Wyatt stepped out to form the wondrous Matching Mole after a brief in-between stint with the short-lived and unknown but great Centipede. From that point on, personnel changes were de rigueur, and this CD issues from the period when Mike Ratledge was sole remaining founding member just as whirlwind Alan Holdsworth stepped in on guitar duties.

You'll encounter a good deal of argumentation regarding the post Mark II ensemble, as Soft purists hold, with very good reason, that this was a high water mark in prog period, let alone the Soft Machine history. True. However, to in any way discount the later incarnations is to become reactionary, denying oneself rich pleasures indeed. There's no better proof of that than this CD and its incredible riffing all around. Holdsworth especially is in prime shape and pealing off the kind of runs, slurs, and modalities only he could shape. More, when backed by Karl Jenkins (winds, keyboards), John Marshal (drums, percussion), and Roy Babbington (bass), as well as Ratledge (keyboards), well, what we're talking about is a volcano waiting for its cue to erupt.

The ukiyo-e atmosphere of the title cut, a lovely lilting confetti of wafting cherry blossoms and gentle breezes, harks back to Soft Machine 6 but when Holdsworth steps in, a gale force wind cuts through the milieu, and we're plunged into the inferno of his old Tempest and I.O.U. groups. Having caught I.O.U. at the Whiskey in the 70s, I felt like that guy in the Memorex commercial, blown nearly out of my seat (well, the Whiskey had balcony pews for us under-18s, but you get the idea). In those days, and at that gig, Alan played violin too, and extremely well…catch The Man who Waved at Trains here to hear his acumen. Floating World Live is from that period, a previously unreleased Jan. 29, 1975 date, and also features an extended (6:08!) Babbington solo, Ealing Comedy.

There are very large similarities between this epoch of the Softs and what Pierre Moerlen later did with Gong, bless 'im, a group that also asked Holdsworth in for a release or three, so if you happen to be a fan of this sort of thing, *Floating* is tailor-woven for you. In fact, oddly enough, the main drive unit to Peff is very similar to Gong's masterwork's key cut, The Great Om Riff. And frankly, there's never enough of this stellarly searing fusionoid sonority to go around. Labels like MoonJune and Cuneiform (wherein much-treasured live Matching Mole CDs may be located) have been quite adept at making sure prog-hounds maintain a healthy, fit, and ravening jones, well nourished and ever ready for more.

Track List:

  • The Floating World (Karl Jenkins)
  • Bundles (Karl Jenkins)
  • Land of the Bag Snake (Alan Holdsworth)
  • Ealing Comedy (Roy Babbington)
  • The Man who Waved at Trains (Mike Ratledge)
  • Peff (Mike Ratledge)
  • North Point (Ratledge / Marshall)
  • Hazard Profile, Pt. 1 (Karl Jenkins)
  • J.S.M. (John Marshall)
  • Riff III (Ratledge / Jenkins / Holdsworth / Babbington / Marshall)
  • Song of Aeolus (Karl Jenkins)
  • Endgame (Ratledge / Jenkins / Holdsworth / Babbington / Marshall)
  • Penny Hitch (coda) (Karl Jenkins)

Edited by: David N. Pyles


Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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