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Soft Heap - Rogue Element (as Soft Head) CD (album) cover

ROGUE ELEMENT (AS SOFT HEAD)

Soft Heap

Canterbury Scene


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Tom Ozric
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Here is yet another Canterbury 'Super-group', Soft Head. (H)ugh Hopper on Bass, (E)lton Dean on Saxes, (A)lan Gowen on Keyboards and (D)ave Sheen on Drums. When (P)ip Pyle replaced Sheen, they obviously became Soft HEAP !! This is a live recording from 1978, and has an amazingly clear sound and great depth. The LP features 5 tunes, very Jazzy and Avant-Garde, but what else could you expect from these guys ?! Side 1 : 'Seven For Lee' (8.40) An Elton Dean composition with a 7/8 rhythm, Hopper's superb Bass riff 'stitching the canvas' for Dean to paint his colourful, blowing Saxello notes all over - dear Elton's lungs must've had the capacity of an aircraft hanger to play like this !! The song does slow down at one point to allow for Hopper's Bass solo, but returns to the 7 riff until the end. All the while, Gowen's mesmerising choice of notes on his Fender Rhodes epitomises cool shades and a lounge chair. This stuff is way too sophisticated for joss-sticks. Hopper's 'Seven Drones' (4.00) presents us with some free-form noodling, random bashings and burblings, but comes together during a brief spell in the middle of the song for an almost sentimental melody, then falls apart again. Very challenging, but engaging too. Out of the rubble emerges Gowen's tricky 'Remain So' (5.05) with virtuosic performances from all but Elton (who seemed to take a back seat for this one). Full of varying tempo's and abrupt stop/starts, the main section shows off Gowen's mastery of the Fender Rhodes and at various points, a dash of Mini-Moog. Truly tasteful and adventurous. On the flipside, another Gowen track 'C.R.R.C' (13.52) treats the listener to some seriously sultry and seductive moods, real candle-lit dinner for two (or one as is my case) music - smooth indeed, but not very exciting. Finishing up the record is another piece from Dean 'One Three Nine' (6.17), a faster paced tune with bouncy melodies, and, as always, great playing. Because of its overt Jazziness, it may only appeal to fans of Canterbury and Fusion, but it's an excellent listen indeed.

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Send comments to Tom Ozric (BETA) | Report this review (#160053)
Posted Monday, January 28, 2008 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

Second album of Soft Heap where Pip Pyle had obligation elsewhere and he was replaced by Dave Sheen, thus Soft Head and the album Rogue Element, of which I'm sure, the elephant occupying the artwork is certainly aimed at. So this album was recorded the following year than the debut and released on the Ogun label, already familiar to progheads for Keith Tippett's works. This is the recording of gig in deep France.

Opening the album on the Dean-penned Seven For Lee, the album starts on a Soft Machine mode with Dean soaring over the rest of the band, but Gowen and Hopper are just behind Elton, making this track the easiest of the album. Hopper's seven Drones veers instantly into dissonant ground, proof that not only Dean was able to follow Marshall around the Machine's fifth album. Nothing too hard for the novice's ears with Gowan's soft electric piano bedding the track. More accessible is the Gowan-penned Remain So, a piano- dominated tune.

The flipside opens on CRRC, written by Alan, and last some 14 minutes, which is enough to let you know that he's a full member of Heap, despite having Gilgamesh still under way (with Hopper appearing), but the "tune" appears more real jazz than fusion or jazz-rock, the mid-song energy outburst not bringing much new. The closing One Three Nine is just more of the same as the album offered you so far.

Ogun released a Mini-Lp reissue of this album in 96, and had the luck to find two extra unreleased tracks (apparently from the same concert, since the ambiance and sound are the same as on the album) and included them as bonus on this release. The 17-mins Dean composition Ranovais a slow starting tune on piano, than sax with Sheen Hoppering on the train a while later. Not too dissonant, but definitely beyond the huge majority of Machine standards, but by Heap/Head standard, quite normal C You Again is really very slow and mega-dissonant, making this track the weaker point on the album, but it remains part off that night's concert.

So the two bonus tracks are excellent added value for the original album, which makes the new version lasting some 60 minutes, which is plenty enough and not lasting too long. I wouldn't call any Heap/Head album essential Canterbury scene music, but they are exactly the kind of albums that consolidate the genre.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#232798)
Posted Thursday, August 20, 2009 | Review Permalink
snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars The only (live) Soft Head album is excellent work! Having its roots in psychedelic jazz-rock of early Soft Machine music, this album is in fact Elton Dean's swan song. Plenty of soloing jazzy sax on each composition (with great support of all other musicians, especially - Alan Gowen's electric piano). Obviously more jazzy, than many Soft Machine albums, this album is excellent gem for Elton Dean sax lovers.

I can listen it again and again - fresh, very inspired improvs and possibly the best Elton Dean recordings ever! To be honest, I like all Soft Heap/Soft Head albums, they all are based on Elton Dean sax soloing with great support of Canterbury stars. But this live album is peak of all them for me!

If you like Elton Dean, jazzy side of Soft Machine music or just great sax-led progressive jazz, you must have this album for sure.

My rating is 4,5, rounded to 5!

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Send comments to snobb (BETA) | Report this review (#292478)
Posted Thursday, July 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars This is a live album recorded in a club in France in 1978. Alan Gowen, Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean and Dave Sheen make up this band.The first three are all gone now sadly. It's hard to believe when looking at the pictures of Alan Gowen in the liner notes that just three years from this recording he died of cancer while still in his thirties. In the liner notes it describes Alan as "a jazzer by nature, but his writing was dominated by elaborate and expansive themes. His playing had litheness and lightness which blurred what was scored and what was improvised. Running parallel jaunts with Elton's bitter-sweet saxello, Alan could wail in a way that stretched tonality to it's limit".

"Seven For Lee" opens with bass as light drums join in then keys. Sax before a minute. Great sound here. A calm arrives around 6 1/2 minutes then it builds with bass and drums. Sax before 8 minutes then keys. "Seven Drones" is a Hopper composition. Drums and dissonant keys lead the way as sax comes and goes. Bass before 1 1/2 minutes as the sax starts to play over top. The sax and keys become dissonant. Crazy stuff. It figures that this is a Hopper tune. "Remain So" picks up quickly with piano but the tempo changes often on this one. Bass takes over before 3 minutes. Sax is back late.

"Ranova" is a Dean composition and the longest at almost 17 minutes. It's mellow and slow to start with atmosphere. A beat changes that 4 minutes in. Sax is back a minute later and it gets pretty dissonant. The sax stops 10 1/2 minutes in as keyboards take over. Bass leads 14 minutes in but the sax returns before 15 minutes to the end. "C You Again" opens with sax and Elton does put on a show. Drums, bass and keys join in after 1 1/2 minutes. It's building 3 minutes in. "C.R.R.C" is another long one at 14 minutes. I like the sound here as keys and sax lead while the bass and drums are also prominant. The tempo picks up after 5 1/2 minutes. It calms right down a minute later with piano, bass and drums. "One Three Nine" is a jazzy little number with sax and keys leading. A bass solo after 5 1/2 minutes.

A very important document really of these talented men playing live. The electric piano, sax, bass and drums are played as only these men could play them.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#298214)
Posted Thursday, September 09, 2010 | Review Permalink

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