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The Soft Machine - Third CD (album) cover

THIRD

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

4.21 | 676 ratings

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Wied
5 stars Soft Machine's third album should have been titled "Jazz from Space". Soft Machine is one of the seminal bands of the Canterbury scene of jazz-fusion and progressive rock. The album features the trio established on the last album, Volume Two, plus Elton Dean. Lyn Dobson was a member of the band during the live recording of the first track, and three guest musicians also contribute to the album. This album is more jazzy than any of its predecessors, putting Soft Machine at the head of the British Fusion movement.

The album opens with some very spacey keyboard work by Mike Ratledge. "Facelift" was recorded live early in 1970. The track is over eighteen minutes long. Just like the other three tracks. At the beginning of these eighteen minutes, we have the aforementioned spacey keyboards. After a bit, these become harsh, loud, and distorted; while still keeping the space theme of the last bit, so the transition is relatively smooth. A short bridge leads to the first main part. Dean and Dobson, on alto and soprano sax, respectively, play like there's no tomorrow, while Ratledge furiously hits his distorted organ. Hopper provides the main pulse of the track, along with Wyatt, who sounds as if he plays drum fills one after another, while keeping with the rest of the musicians. A short break after this segment sounds like your in an elevator taking you to the sun. The saxophones reenter, but only for a short bit, before everything quits. Ratledge plays a steady note on his organ while Dobson plays a flute solo that rivals Ian Anderson. Soon, the rest of the band reenters, and Dobson continues trilling away on his flute to his heart's content. Normally, live, he would be playing a harmonica, but the flute is better in my opinion. The creativity in this segment is over the top. Dobson puts the flute down and plays his soprano sax for the rest of this section. Wyatt really shows in this segment, playing tom fills like they're a basic eighth note pattern on the ride. The track seems to be loosing a bit of energy, so, to end the track, the band plays a reprise of a segment earlier in the track. This part is backtracked and the music fades to a close. Overall, one of my favorite songs. 5/5

The next song is a bit more straightforward. "Slightly All the Time" is a standard early fusion piece. Were some trumpet included, it would fit in perfectly on "Bitches Brew". Wyatt and Hopper start the track, with a bass and drum-duet, before Dean and Ratledge enter with the main lines. Dean plays the sax tastefully and beautifully in this segment, and Ratledge's electric piano in the right ear is a perfect foil to Wyatt's drumming in the left. The first segment of this piece is very consistent, following this formula for the majority of its length. Five minutes into the track, the pace picks up, and Jimmy Hastings provides a flute break. Following this, the tracks slows down a bit and becomes a bit calmer. Ratledge, in addition to the piano, adds some fuzzed organ, a trademarked sound he basically invented. He solos for a bit without the sax, and, listening closely, you can also hear some clarinet in the left ear provided by Hastings. The "Backwards" section ensues, and a very spacey part with sax and distant organ takes up some of the remaining space on the track. A fast-paced sax section follows, cramming a large amount of notes into the remaining space, before a reprise of Backwards plays, ending the track in a blaze of glory. 5/5

Robert Wyatt is a very talented singer. The first two tracks were instrumental. Almost immediately, Wyatt starts to sing a song in the third track on the third album, "Moon in June". The lyrics, like most of the Machine's lyrics, deal, apparently, with sex. Wyatt's vocals are clearly the centerpiece, panned in the middle with his drums. The track seems to ramble a bit in the beginning. It lacks the power of older pieces such as "Esther's Nose Job" and "Rivmic Melodies", but it's not Wyatt's vocals or drumming that bring the piece down, nor is it the other instruments. It seems to be the piece itself. While older vocal pieces were jazz influenced, this one tries too hard to keep with the jazz of the rest of the album while being a vocal progressive rock piece. This detracts from the piece just a bit. After Wyatt's vocals, the track rambles on through some experimental landscapes. It sounds like the music I would listen to if I was being kidnapped. The ending of the track is a bit more quiet, and some strange violin by Rab Spall effectively dominates it. The track putters out. On paper, it sounds like a bad track, but you really have to listen to it, you'll see it's good for a couple listens, and it grows on you. (This may be the reason why this is the last song the group would record with vocals) 4/10, but tentative on that.

The last track on the album is a return to the new jazz sound of the Machine. A bit like "Slightly All the Time", "Out-Bloody-Rageous" starts with spacey keyboards, not unlike the way "Facelift" started. These keyboards take up the first five minutes of the track. At their conclusion, a saxophone and piano number with a great melody plays beautifully, before breaking to a fuzz organ number. Hopper's bass and Wyatt's drums are a powerhouse of a rhythm section for the organ. Dean's sax enters again, and plays for a bit before a reprise of the spacey keyboards enters. When the keyboards leave, a more standard jazz number follows, containing amazing piano, trombone (provided by Nick Evans), and organ. The bass reenters, as do the drums, and soon the saxophone, and a very spacey jazz section breaks out. It's the music astronauts listen to next to a pool. This part of the track takes up most of the remainder of the song, before the spacey keyboards yet again reenter and close the track. Very enjoyable end to the album. 5/5

Overall, the Soft Machine's new musical direction is a nice new face for the group. It must have been a sight to see any of these tracks performed live. This album rates high on my favorite albums list, and it is my favorite Fusion album. I highly recommend this album to anyone who likes Miles Davis. It deserves five stars.

Wied | 5/5 |

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