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The Soft Machine - Six CD (album) cover

SIX

The Soft Machine

 

Canterbury Scene

3.47 | 158 ratings

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zravkapt
Special Collaborator
Post/Math Rock Team
4 stars Like Third, this is a double-album, but this time one record was all live and the other all studio. This is also the best thing Softs did since Third, the two albums in between showing the group at their most avant-jazz. Six is the first album with Karl Jenkins and the last with Hugh Hopper. Jenkins, like drummer John Marshall, had been a member of Nucleus before joining the Softs. It wouldn't be long before Jenkins started taking over the group. He replaces saxophonist Elton Dean but also becomes a second keyboardist along with Mike Ratledge. Besides saxes and keys he also plays oboe, which is an unusual instrument to have in a 'fusion' group.

The cover artwork is one of my favourites from this group. It looks like a visual artists' interpretation of the groups name. The live album sounds like two long suites, being divided up into shorter pieces. Most of the live songs are new except "All White" which appeared on Fifth. "Between" is mostly electric pianos which builds up to the great "Riff". This song has a great mix of fuzz-organ and wah-piano. "Gesolreut" is probably the best song on the live record. Nice bassline and drumbeat. I like how the electric piano and sax play together at points. Great solo on a modified sax or oboe, almost sounds like a guitar.

"E.P.V." starts off almost New Age with electric piano and sax/oboe. Then slowly bass and drums join in and it becomes loud and intense instead. Then the song mellows out. "Lefty" is similar to "Facelift" from Third; noisy and avant. "Stumble" is another great song but way too short. Nice acoustic piano in this song. "5 From 13 (for Phil Seamen with love and thanks)" has a very Canterbury sounding title. But it's just the obligatory John Marshall drum solo. Ever since he joined a spot was set aside on every album for him to solo. "Riff II" is completely different to "Riff".

The studio half opens with "The Soft Weed Factor". This begins with an electric piano playing a hypnotic repeated figure. Slowly it gets joined by another electric piano playing something similar yet different. Before long, one or two more electric pianos appear. Very mellow and trance inducing. After 3 minutes drums and bass come in with a nice groove. Shortly after fuzz-organ and sax/oboe play in unison. In the middle some percussion noises get added. Before 9 minutes the bass and drums stop. The last two or so minutes is more hypnotic electric pianos, gradually going back to just one.

"Stanley Stamps Gibbon Album (for B.O.)" goes back to Vol. 2/Third territory. Nice percussion. What sounds like hypnotic, looped oboes at the end. "Chloe And The Pirates" begins with spacey sounds, some backwards. You hear backwards sax/oboe and then a repetative electric piano and bass while the sax/oboe now plays forward. Drums come in and it builds to a loud climax of sorts. Then it switches to an easy going groove with sax or oboe soloing. At 6 1/2 minutes some more backwards effects and the beginning played forward. Ending with more spacey effects and backwards loops along with sax playing over top.

"1983" is bassist Hopper's baby. This sounds more like the stuff on his solo album 1984, released a year earlier, than it does with anything else on Six. More avant-prog than Canterbury or fusion. The main song is based around piano and cymbals. Various sound effects get added. Overdubbed basses noodle at the end with weird oboes or saxes whining away. Intense song, not for everybody, that's for sure. You actually don't hear a lot of Hopper's trademark fuzz-bass on this album, although it does rear it's ugly head once in awhile.

The studio half has better sound and compositions. But the live half has better performances. After Hopper left, Jenkins will really start to influence the group. It gets to the point that even Ratledge leaves, with no original members left. The groups sound would also get closer to stereotypical fusion. Because this is the last album with Hopper and Ratledge together, in many ways it is the last real Soft Machine album. I like the albums they did after this, but it justs seems like a completely different group altogether. Not a good place to start with Softs, but this is recommended to those who are mainly familiar with the first three albums. 4 stars.

zravkapt | 4/5 |

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