Brass and wind ensembles have occupied a twilight existence in the overlap between progrock and jazz, most notably in ensembles like Either Orchestra, the Microscopic Septet, Urban Sax, Strata Institute, and various sets of gratifying overachievers. In fact, such groups have historically provoked the extension of the term 'progressive' beyond mellotrons and wailing overdriven guitars into a form of neoclassicalism. However, long before any of the just-cited estimables existed, there was Soft Machine, first an arty-pop ensemble then, Kevin Ayers departing to become one of rock's few true crooners, a dreadnought destined to become a progfusion landmark. The prized Delta Saxophone Quartet has revisited the Softs, from the quintessential Third LP forward, to craft an improv tribute. They're just the latest in a slow trend epiphanizing the elder group, but so far also the most remarkable.
Let me amplify a bit. When I say 'improv', I use the word in two of its senses, as a remark upon free soloing within a composition but also as a reflection in altered takes upon pre-written material. Every cut in Dedicated is based on a Soft Machine song (hence, most, if not all, titles will spark recognitions in fans) and then extrapolated in the same tradition the original ensemble was dedicated to. Thus, it soon becomes apparent that there are the expected modicums of order and chaos simultaneously: charts and, atop them, personal wrinkles.
Ah, but there's so much more. In Aubade, the, if I'm listening correctly, baritone sax takes on the vocabulary and tone of a cello, so much so that I had to check the liner to make sure I hadn't read askew, all the more because Hugh Hopper, a Softs founder, and Morgan Fisher, a prog mainstay, appear in a couple of songs, and Hugh especially is famed for how well he can warp matters to appear to be other than what they are (as could Mike Ratledge). Of course a ballad, Aubade leads into the serial Noisette, sounding like a particularly deep number from the spectacularly talented Penguin Orchestra Cafe. Later comes the chaos of The Tale of Taliesin and, thus, hardly a stone is left unturned as Dedicated wends its way through cut after cut.
There have been a number of extremely delectable tribute projects through the years—Mellow Records, for instance, published a mindblowing homage to Van der Graaf Generator, Eyewitness, in '95—and this CD ranks with the best, not merely for extraordinary musicianship and fidelity to the SM legacy from near-beginning to finale but as well for its value as music cum music. The band has been esteemed by many in rock, jazz, prog, and neoclassical venues, and this ambitious release only sets hungry hearts and anxious ears aflutter all the more.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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