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The Soft Machine - Drop CD (album) cover

DROP

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

3.00 | 15 ratings

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Man With Hat
3 stars An under heard version of The Soft Machine.

Ever wonder what a free jazz version of The Soft Machine would sound like? Well, this is your answer. At this point Mr. Wyatt was out of the band and Phil Miller was brought in to fill his stool. Mr. Miller is apparently well known in jazz circles and his presence in the band plus Elton's desire to steer the band in a freer direction, gave way to this interesting side road in the Softs long journey. Most of the songs presented here are given this free-jazz treatment, meaning plenty of blowing and sqeaking from Dean and relentless (yet never outlandish or engulfing) attacks on the drums from Miller. Additionally, most rock or jazz-rock influences/sounds have left, leaving what isn't saturated in free-jazz (or even just dipped in for flavor) purely jazz.

The first three songs are the most free-jazz and most uncompromising. I particularly love Ratledge's solo on Slightly All The Time. The opening to Drop, with it's swirling piano lines and lack of Miller is almost a welcomed relief after 25 or so minutes of constant onslaught. This track also contains a dynamite solo from Ratledge. As If is another highlight, being as ominous as ever. Excellent drum work here, and I can imagine Dean's solo making the audience member's hairs stand on end. Dark Swing is a short drum solo from Miller. While this track is not truely outstanding (and with mild shock value), you can really hear and analyze Miller's approach to things on this track (perhaps most notably how different it is from Wyatt's). Pigling Bland is given a robust treatment here, and is the least free-jazzy of the album. Powerful, compact, and outstanding. A nice ending tune and one of my favorite versions of the song. I'm not sure if this is all one concert or not, but all of the songs seemlessly glide into one another. Thus if this was one concert (and not various takes from different concerts) this album gets another star for impressibility! Finally a word about sound quality. Absolutely no complaints here. While not perfectly sounding, for being a live album from 1971 this certainly well recorded. Very few things (if any) get lost in the mix so to speak (if anything does it could be the subtleities of Miller's drums, but that could just be the nature of the beast), everything is loud, and nothing sounds muddy.

All in all, this is a very good document in the history of Soft Machine. The Ratledge-Dean-Hopper-Miller quartet would never make a full studio album (though they do contribute the majority of Fifth), thus making this the first proper recording of this line up. Soft Machine gurus should find this an excellent historical document if nothing else. Also, fans of free-jazz and avant-jazz should find plenty to enjoy here. (Incidently this might make a good introduction to free-jazz, being its not totally out in left field but still contains plenty of the elements while being grounded firmly in Soft Machine). Overall though, for a progressive rock rating a few points should probably be deducted, being this is a jazz album through and through (albeit sophisticated and throughly Soft Machine). 3 stars for PA, 3.8-4 stars in a general sense.

Man With Hat | 3/5 |

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