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The Soft Machine - Grides CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

4.41 | 59 ratings

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Dick Heath
Special Collaborator
Jazz-Rock Specialist
5 stars I've said it before: where do they (and particularly Cuneiform Records), keep finding these excellent live recordings of Soft Machine? It seems each subsequently released live recording is better than the previous! Most recently we were offered two separate CDs of 1975 recordings with both their line-ups in very good form and the recordings of the very best quality, i.e. 'Floating Worlds' with a revitalised Machine and Holdsworth full integrated made, in early 1975, and the Nottingham University Rag gig from November 1975 (i.e. 'British Tour'). With the latest, 'Grides' disinterred from the archives we slip further back in time to a pair of recordings of the original jazz rock fusion line-up of the Softs, made in 1970 and 1971 on CD and DVD respectively. And WOW!

The CD provides the full performance heard from the stage of the Netherlands' Concertgbouw in 1970, about 6 months after the release of Third. And then the real rarity, DVD footage of Machine playing to the TV cameras of Radio Bremen for a Beat Club session in early 1971. It is rare that I give any "new" album 5 stars immediately upon release; there is a personally need to savour the music and see if it stands thet test of time. However, one advantage here is that the tunes are familiar, while of importance most clearly the arrangements, improv and the playing is as good you'll hear on record from the joint-company of Wyatt, Ratledge, Hopper and Dean. Listening to the CD right through, with speakers loud, I found myself joining the Dutch audience from 35 years ago, applauding at the end of 80 minutes of a well oiled Machine in action, at its productive best - hey the last time I applauded like that was at the cinema when Ben Hur won the chariot race...... And of course on the second DVD disc, we have a very long last moving pictures of Soft Machine to own - surely pushing the whole to 5 and half stars!!

Music on 'Grides' comes from 'Volume 2' (significantly jazzier versions of selected elements of Ester's Nose Job), 'Third' , 'Fourth' and 'Fifth' (okay All White is found on 'Six' too), plus the old work horse of live performance(and now live recordings) Eamonn Andrews. All four musicians are up for the gig (cf. 'Floating Worlds' where Ratledge seemed to have merged into the background). Robert Wyatt skitters around the drumkit (reminding me of the suggestion, in the nicest way, of being Elvin Jones crossed with Ringo Starr), one moment rock musician the next swinging. Hugh Hopper's bass is both the expected understated instrument (but you would miss it if it wasn't there), and then on a number of occasions the nominate voice, changing the direction of the band and out there in front. Ratledge's keyboard work is amongst the best (if not the best), I've heard from him. It reminds me that his playing skills, a great ability to improv, and also move the band in explosively different directions, was never matched by those more famous prog keyboardists who never risked major changes from concert to concert. However, this CD is a monument to the (prematurely) late Elton Dean. Who needs a guitarist with Dean fronting the band with such energy and ideas? Saxello and alto sax work are scintillating, while his interplay with Ratledge here is at the peak of the two playing together.

Aymeric Leroy again provides the liner notes. And I must admit I'm chuffed that he reiterates and confirms what I've been writing from a very long time, wrt to the independent and equally important directions American and British jazz rock took around 1970, with Miles Davis and Soft Machine respectively.

'Grides' is most surely for all those people who reckon 'Third' is their favourite Soft Machine or Canterbury scene album.

Dick Heath | 5/5 |


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