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Soft Heap - Al Dente CD (album) cover


Soft Heap

Canterbury Scene

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1 stars For some bizarre reason, I was pretty enthusiastic when I received this CD in the mail. For an even stranger reason, I believed this band was going to be a fantastic offshoot of the always lovable and laudable Soft Machine and going to focus on their former glories for musical inspiration. I hadn't even paid a great deal of attention to the fact that the band's original creative genius, Robert Wyatt, (One of the primary writing forces in the Machine's first three albums) had nothing to do with this project, and the fact that Soft Heap was mainly put together by the notorious sax player and villain, Elton Dean, who's style of sax playing doesn't fit my tastes at all. I've got nothing personal against Dean but whenever the occasion is (and believe me, it's quite frequent) that he doesn't utilize his woodwind playing skills for melodic purposes, he's often near unlistenable.

To this day, I still remember a little exchange I had with my brother before I randomly popped the CD into the stereo. As, I was removing the plastic wrap from the CD's attractive digipack container, my fairly prog rock opposed brother (No, he's not a fan of RIO; he simply hates most forms of music) asked me what kind of sounds would plague his eardrums today. The ensuing banter will be typed in the form of a playwright:

Me: You're going to be listening to Soft Heap, man.

Bro: (pauses, then has a wry smile) Why are you listening to Soft Heap? Doesn't the band's name say itself that it's obviously a load of crap?

Well, I'll be danged, this silly, little anecdote was the first time the kid was ever right about music. Soft Heap does live up to its name. If an album comprised of six lengthy, sax dominated jams made up right on the spot with no form or structure appeal to you, go ahead and waste fifteen dollars on it. I'm no specialist on free jazz but I personally can't stand this record. Individually, these musicians are great and I'm not going to deny that. Every single one of them has shown promise on a non-Heap album. (Even the noisy Dean got his time to shine on Soft Machine's Third.) Alan Gowen may be second only to Keith Emerson in terms of finger flashing keyboard abilities, Pip Pyle's "Octopus" trade name is surely justified for those who have heard the man's dexterous drumming, Hugh Hopper has shown signs of being a great, fluent, (and loud!) bass player and songwriter, and in terms of talent, I'll begrudgingly admit that Elton Dean is an ultra talented sax player even if Frank Zappa might think he's blowing his nose into the poor instrument. (See "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" for the in-joke reference)

I'm not even going to discuss the songs individually. They all tend to blend together stylistically (They're all sax jams!) and Gowen's subdued, electric piano showcases on a few tracks are the only reprieve you're going to get from the sax attacks! And why do jazz bands always have one track that's name is just an acronym of random letters? Do they think they're more elitist and accomplished since they named one of their jams, "C.R.R.C"? Does anyone care? Oh and be sure to check later, jazz fans, a slightly used, slightly smelly copy of Soft Heap's Grammy nominated "Al Dente" has made it's debut.

Btw, R.I.P. all the members of Soft Heap. Now I shall have a feeling of guilt dwell upon me every time I maliciously rip on sax jams for being annoying. For fear of being haunted by the ghost of Elton Dean's saxophone, let's dedicate a moment of silence to each and every one of these virtuosos. Like I said, they're all really talented chaps, this album just puts them in a bad light.

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Posted Thursday, July 22, 2010 | Review Permalink

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