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The Soft Machine - Soft Machine & Heavy Friends  BBC In Concert 1971 CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

3.35 | 15 ratings

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Man With Hat
3 stars A Soft Machine party.

This is a bit of a strange album in the vast steppe landscape that is Soft Machine live recordings. The actual Soft Machine lineup of the time doesn't appear until the last track, and Blind Badger is really an Elton Dean piece for his ensemble. The difference on here is that Ratledge plays keys on this piece, but it's still quite a distance away from a true Machine tune. (Even with Wyatt's eventual replacement at the drums.) Of the other two pieces, Neo-Caliban Grides is probably the closest to the "regular" Soft Machine. The traditional long form Soft Machine medley is augmented with a wealth of guests on everything from bass to sax to trumpet to trombone. Admittedly, I do like the addition of these reeds and brass sounds. It almost transports you back to when Soft Machine was a Septet.

The music on here ranges from fairly good to excellent. Elton's tune, Blind Badger, is a fun excursion into the jazz side of things. For me, it strikes me how controlled Howard's drums are. Especially comparing this to his performances on Fifth and Drop. Neo-Caliban Grides is a short chaotic ride. However, slightly disappointing. I was hoping with two drummers in the lineup (for the first and only time in Softs history) this would be a real powerhouse of a song. For the most part it seems like the two drummers are really one, which I suppose is impressive in it's own way, but still leaves something lacking for me. The long form medley of seven tracks is fairly successful. The guests add their most striking touches here, conjuring up (sometimes) new twists to old Softs favorites. However, there are periods that don't seem to mesh so well together. Perhaps it was the interruption of the traditional Softs chemistry with the addition of the myriad of guests. Finally, we get to the best part of the album, Slightly All The Time/Noisette, the classic encore. The playing here is easily the most successful, tightest, and arguably the best on the entire album. The downside is, there is a drop in sound quality. The pristine BBC sound that the rest of the album was broadcasted in is replaced with an average, hissing tape sound. The mix is also the least spectacular. With the organ fairly in the background. The plus to this is that Hopper's bass is up in the mix and does sound wonderful.

All in all, this is a strange but successful document. A one off of friends jamming together to pre-composed tunes in the BBC soundstage. Despite the couple of flaws, this is worthy of owning if you are a Softs fanatic. Casual listeners could probably skip over this one, as there are other, better documents from 1971 Soft Machine. On my personal scale, this would probably be closer to a 3.5-3.75, but for PA and a general prog collection I think 3 stars should do it.

Man With Hat | 3/5 |


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