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The Soft Machine - Bundles CD (album) cover

BUNDLES

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

3.98 | 228 ratings

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Negoba
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Above Average Fusion Introduces Guitar Legend

Soft Machine's Bundles album has a special place in the history of jazz fusion as being an introduction of sorts to the up and coming guitarist Allan Holdsworth. Though I am far from a Softs authority, early work by this group was both more quirky and exploratory. By the time of this album, jazz fusion was an established genre and this lineup of the Machine follows the formula reliably. If you know Holdsworth's style, this album holds few surprises. For all the love that is given this album, nothing really grabs hold of me here. In fact, there are some frankly boring parts including long repetitive riffs in the opening and closing songs that don't build or go anywhere. In the latter case, this can be forgiven as a slow release for the entire project. But to start the listener with the same riff played identically almost 50 times is hardly the way to evoke interest or to introduce your new star.

Certainly, the fusion here is good. All of the players here are quite talented, and really Holdsworth does not come across as the lion in a den of cubs that is sometimes depicted. To be sure, his technique was absolutely unique in those days, and he has influenced many of the best guitarists in the world since then. He is a Hall of Fame player. But his actual playing lacks some fire to my ear. Remarkably exact, quick, exotic note choices, it's all here. But something emotional is not. His best piece is the all too brief acoustic interlude "Gone Sailing," where Allan actually lets a bit hang out. More of that would have pushed him to greater heights, as his taste for controlled, over polished sound probably cost him some fans throughout his career.

There are places later in the album where Holdsworth is in the background riding the groove that the band really starts firing on all cylinders. "Peff" is perhaps the greatest example of this, with sax and piano giving an almost Weather Report feel to the music, but this time Holdsworth's simple riffing gives true energy to the tune. The song "Bundles" is another of my favorites. It is basically a Holdworth solo with a good hook, but drummer John Marshall steals the show. Drumming is for me always the high point of good fusion, and here it's crisp and propels the music forward at a brisk run. The keys are aggressive and textured. The variety of feels and sounds between songs is mature.

There are some great moments on this album, and certainly a healthy helping of early Holdsworth. But nothing here truly dazzles. 3+ album that I'm rounding down.

Negoba | 3/5 |

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