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Soft Machine Legacy - Steam CD (album) cover

STEAM

Soft Machine Legacy

Canterbury Scene


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Easy Money
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars I'm not sure why these guys decided to call themselves Soft Machine Legacy, with three Soft Machine members on board and a woodwind player who can channel Elton Dean without sounding totally derivative, seems to me that this is none other than Soft Machine itself. I was curious what the always futuristic Soft Machine would sound like in the middle of the first decade of the new century. Would one of the first proto nu-jazz bands be using drumnbass rhythm patterns, DJ loops and Laswell styled psychedelic dub mixing? The answer is no, none of those things. All the same, this new Soft Machine (Legacy) still sounds modern, and fortunately still sounds very much like The Soft Machine we have all come to know and love over the years.

The music on here is almost like a retrospective of their whole career, tempered with some modern sensibilities. The classic 3rd through 5th albums are well represented by Theo Travis' soprano sax and flute solos that are often given that classic Soft Machine tape loop echo treatment. Guitarist John Etheridge recalls the heavier more guitar driven versions of the band when either he or Alan Holdsworth held the guitar chair. Meanwhile, the modern influences show up in the implied hip-hop shuffle in some of John Marshall's beats, as well as the Ronald Shannon Jackson styled 'drum line' fills and patterns. Overall the band seems to have picked up influences from the tough lean NYC knitting factory scene and Miles' stripped down keyboardless screaming guitar outings with Mike Stern and Marcus Miller in the early 80s.

This is a great album, and if you like this band you will not be disappointed. My only complaint is the same as with many Soft Machine albums, this band never really writes a memorable melody, but it's a minor flaw in that they more than make up for that deficiency with creative jazz rock that never looses site of the importance of sound texture, something that is completely lost on many other fusion bands.

Report this review (#236193)
Posted Monday, August 31, 2009 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
4 stars Rouded up to the fourth star!!!

Second studio album from the Legacy of one of the greatest jazz-rock band of the 70's, but as relatively evident from day one of this reformation, the Canterbury-ian elements are almost absent in this form (despite Hopper's fuzzed bass), so we're faced with a purer more conventional 70's-style jazz-rock, and sometimes downright jazz. With Elton now gone (and Hugh not yet departed for calmer skies), the newcoming Theo Travis (so to speak as most of you will know him from the Gong planet, where he subs in for Bloomdido Malherbe) is more than fine sax and even better a flute player, something absent in the Machine since Lyn Dobson's short SM tenure in early 1970.

Only one track dates back from the halcyon days, it is Ratledge's rather quiet Chloe And The Pirates, the rest being original composition, where a bit surprisingly (for a newcomer) Travis writes three of them alone and co-signs three more, out of a total of ten, all of them clocking between almost 5 to just-under 9 minutes. Hopper and Etheridge sign the rest of the songs, but participate in the communally-written tracks as well. Hopper's opening Footloose features an incendiary Etheridge guitar, but the Travis-penned near-title track has the sax taking its revenge, but royally allows the guitar some extended exposure. While Marshall's drumming is still as awesome as it was a few decades ago (see Big Man), it's mostly the presence of the guitar (not that present in the group's legacy) that dazzles, and fires up the band, while the absence of keyboards strikes a bit, so it's not that easy to instantly recognize the link between the two bands.

As you'd guess Etheridge's Black Room features some wild guitars, while Hopper and Marshall's Firefly goes slightly dissonant with Travis's flute interventions then features a short drum solo. The album explodes with the awesome Last Day's second part, maybe its best moment. So English is another feature of Steam, with its typical Hopper signature and dissonant sounds, starting slowly with flute twirls and loops, guitar strings being caressed before evolving more conventional. Definitely a step up, Dave Acto (probably De Facto) is more aggressively dissonant, stretching your patience and eardrums in the intro, but it actually is reminiscent of Gong's soundscapes in its second half. A cool wind-dominated Travis-penned track closes the album peacefully.

Well, the SML is certainly a worthy homage to its long-gone previous incarnation, even if it doesn't have the typically Canterburyan fuzzed-out keyboards and feature lots of electric guitars, you're still left with an often-brilliant jazz-rock/fusion album, that if hardly groundbreaking, it can still stand proudly in the proghead's shelves.

Report this review (#305936)
Posted Thursday, October 21, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars The art of fine whisky tasting is to add a drop of water to the whisky just to open up the flavours and the bouquet in the whisky. This especially goes for the more older single malt whiskies.

It is a long time since I have done some serious whisky tastings although both my office and my home is physically surrounded by whisky distilleries. But this fundamental whisky tasting rule came to me when I was listening to the version of Mike Ratledge's Chloe & The Pirates on this album. This song was originally featured on Soft Machine's Sixth album and it was a rather convoluted, restrained version of this song. Soft Machine Legacy's version on Steam, their second studio album, is nothing short of brilliant. They have added some water to the spirit and opened up the full flavours of Chloe & The Pirates. Suddenly, this song has become a masterpiece.

I wrote in my review of Live In Zaandam that Soft Machine Legacy was not entirely true to the Soft Machine name and legacy in their sound and music. Well, Steam has proven me wrong and I can only raise my hands and apologize. Steam is not a four old men returns on a Soft Machine nostalgia trip. Steam is a product of four great musicians creating something great together. Elton Dean sadly passed away before this recording and Theo Travis took over. To my knowledge, Theo Travis has never been a member of Soft Machine either.

On this album, Soft Machine Legacy takes some old Soft Machine songs and simply develops both the Soft Machine brand into a new territory....... while they are still true to the original band. Nothing on the stuff here is laid back jazz by any means. The only difference between the original band and this band is the lack of fuzz keyboards and some really hardcore woodwinds. Another difference is that Soft Machine Legacy is brilliant when it comes to the interplay between woodwinds and electric guitars. Step forward, John Etheridge and Theo Travis. Their interplay is excellent throughout. Hugh Hopper is as always excellent on bass and John Marshall proves that he is one of the best ever drummers from the British scene.

The material on this album is a mix of old and new. Chloe & The Pirates has already been mentioned and that is the easiest accessible and the best song here. The rest of the material is more dominated by intricate interplays between these four great musicians and therefore more avant-garde jazz in the old Soft Machine vein. The songs are still great though and this album captivates the listener from the very beginning to long after the last tone. "Was I just hit by a steam train there ?" is the normal reaction after the last tone has rung out from the speakers.

In short, this album is close to being a masterpiece and it should be added to everybody's record collection next to 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 from Soft Machine. I am truly won over and very happy to learn that a new studio album is scheduled for next year. Unfortunate; without Hugh Hopper who sadly passed away after the recording of this album. Steam is a fitting end to his fantastic career.

4.5 stars

Report this review (#333645)
Posted Thursday, November 25, 2010 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars This is SOFT MACHINE LEGACY's second album and there is one major change from the debut and that is the addition of Theo Travis who replaces Elton Dean who had sadly passed away in between records. Man if your a SOFT MACHINE fan you really should check this band out. They haven't lost that edge or that adventerous spirit at all,and that's what makes these studio and live releases from SOFT MACHINE LEGACY so great.

"Footloose" opens with some atmosphere as sounds come and go including sax. Bass takes over after a minute then the drums and sax return.The guitar also joins in but the sax leads until 5 minutes in when the the guitar and drums share the spotlight. Fuzzed out bass from Hopper joins in as well. Check out the sound 6 1/2 minutes in.The sax is back a minute later. Fantastic tune. "The Steamer" opens with drums then a full sound with sax leading. I like when it settles in around a minute. The guitar and fuzz bass start to lead before 3 minutes. Sax is back a minute later. "The Big Man" is differnt as we get a heavy sound with the guitar, bass and drums digging deep.The sax starts to wail. How good is this ! It settles back 4 1/2 minutes in to end it. "Chloe & The Pirates" is a cover of their own song from the "Six" album. This sounds so good. Quite dreamy and relaxed, it's just a pleasure to listen to.

"In The Black Room" is kind of funky with bass, drums and sax standing out. It's lighter too. I like it much better after 2 1/2 minutes as the sound gets more passionate and imaginative, especially the guitar from Etheridge.The earlier soundscape does return though. "The Last Day" is a taste of insanity including crazy flute and guitar expressions. I like it. "Firefly" is flute led until the drums take over as Marshall puts on a bit of a show after 2 minutes. Some guitar 4 1/2 minutes in then the flute returns.This is my least favourite tune. "So English" meanders along with no real melody as flute, guitar, drums and other sounds contribute. Sax before 6 1/2 minutes. "Dave Acto" is experimental then the sax starts to blast around a minute and the guitar and drums become more prominant too. A guitar led melody kicks in after 2 1/2 minutes. Sax leads 4 1/2 minutes in. "Anything To Anywhere" opens with some mellow sax then a full sound kicks in before a minute.This is refreshing to me for some reason. It settles back after 2 minutes with the sax leading then it kicks back in. Excellent !

I have to give Theo credit here as he was very active in this recording not only with his talented playing but he composed three of the tracks himself and helped out with three others.These guys are still very much relevant.

Report this review (#335611)
Posted Friday, November 26, 2010 | Review Permalink

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