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The Soft Machine - Live At Henie Onstad Art Centre CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine

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5 stars "Is this Jazz ? Rock ? Progressive ?" "No, it is Soft Machine !"

This is a conversation printed in this digi-pack and it perfectly sums up the two gigs which now have been turned into this double album. So do we need another Soft Machine live album ? Not really. The material on this album is more or less the same as Grides from some years ago. There are some differences though........

The sound quality here is absolutte superb and miles better than the other live albums from this period, including Grides. The packaging of the CDs is also the most special I have ever seen. Instead of splitting the CDs up in songs, each CD has been mastered as one track. This is not Ipod friendly, but who cares. The songs flows into each other and makes one song so why destroy the feeling by splitting up this CD in tracks.

This double CD comes as a digi pack. The paper thin digi pack is not the sturdiest I have ever seen and easy to tear up by accident. So handle this album with utmost care, please. I would suggest a better packaging. But that is a minor flaw. Included in the package is a third multimedia CD with tonnes of information about the Henie Onstad Centre, the band, the artist and other stuff I have not been able to access yet due to a lack of time. What I have seen so far is excellent and it has given me a full immersion in the concept behind the two concerts. The picture and the art work is also excellent. But strangely enough, any track list or any other references to the tracks Soft Machine loosely runs through on the two CDs here has been omitted from this album. By purpose, I guess. But I have never seen this done before on an album.

Finally, the music.......... The music is mostly taken from Third, Fourth and Fifth. Both CDs is Soft Machine at their most introvert and improvisational. The music is neither jazz, rock or progressive. It is Soft Machine from the Third to Fifth era. The musis is very dense with Elton Dean's various windhorns as the dominant instrument. Hugh Hopper is barking away on his bass and Robert Wyatt is beating the life out of the drums in the background. Mike Ratledge is keeping it all together on his tangents. The songs flows and ebbs into each other without any efforts. The band is firing on all their cylinders. Which explains why these two gigs is still so revered in the Norwegian prog rock scene.

If you love the above mentioned studio albums; this is probably the ultimate live album for you. This album is a strange brew though. Very eclectic and so Soft Machine ! I think this live album is excellent and on the same level as the Floating World Live (Bremen 1975) album. But it showcases a totally different band than the one who did Bundles and Softs. Both bands are called Soft Machine though and carry their DNA profile. Herein lays the essence of Soft Machine.

This album is excellent and a sure purchase for everyone into Soft Machine. I put my (bad) reputation on line here and gives it five stars.

5 stars

Report this review (#260089)
Posted Saturday, January 9, 2010 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars Here's another excellent live release from SOFT MACHINE that has come out of the woodwork.The sound quality is very good as this was professionaly recorded at the Henie Art Centre in Oslo, Norway on February 28 1971. This two disc set shows the band playing some of their classics, and as usual both discs have no breaks between songs as the band just put their heads down and played.

Disc one features "Facelift", "Virually", "Slightly All The Time" and "Fletcher's Blemish". Keyboards and cymbals standout early with no real melody. Some fuzz before 4 1/2 minutes. Check out Ratledge after 6 minutes as the drums pound. It settles down around 11 minutes. A change before 12 1/2 minutes as the sax comes to the fore and the tempo picks up. Keys, bass and drums all sound amazing. A calm 17 minutes in as sounds come and go. Sax and keys sound great 21 minutes in. Fuzz 28 minutes as it changes. A calm after 31 minutes with cymbals. Fuzz before 34 1/2 minutes. It's intense before 36 1/2 minutes then it ends with applause.

Disc two features "Neo-Caliban Grides", "Out-Bloody-Rageous", "Eamonn Andrews", "All White", "Kings And Queens", "Teeth", "Pigling Band" and "Noisette", around 55 minutes of music. Outbursts of sounds come and go to start then it settles as we get some dissonance.This is insane ! Sax, drums and keys seem to be playing on their own oblivious to each other until they unite with fuzz. It settles before 8 1/2 minutes then the tempo picks up. Killer stuff. It settles again 12 1/2 minutes in then kicks back in at 16 1/2 minutes. Some vocal experessions from Wyatt a minute later as it calms right down.The vocals and sound echo before 21 minutes. It kicks back in after 22 minutes with keyboards, bass and drums. Fuzz follows. A change 32 minutes in as we get some outbursts. Fuzz is back 36 minutes in. It settles before 41 minutes and continues to settle back .A change after 43 minutes as relaxed sax plays over the drums, bass and keyboards. Major fuzz a minute later. Applause before 47 minutes as the set ends.The encore track kicks in before 48 1/2 minutes with drums then keys. Lots of fuzz follows. It settles back before 51 minutes. The sax is intense after 52 minutes. Great section. It settles back before 54 minutes but then the fuzz kicks in for the big finish.

Again i'm reminded of what febus said with all the live archival SOFT MACHINE albums. "Where do you draw the line !" Well this one is incredible and I agree with Torodd that this is a sure purchase.

Report this review (#338982)
Posted Tuesday, November 30, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Last decade was rich on Soft Machine's archival releases from classic period, but it's nice there are still unknown gems coming to market again and again. "Live at Henie Onstad Arts Centre 1971 " was recorded between Third and Four studio albums and mostly based on material from them both.

Usually great archival Soft Machine's releases comes from Cuneiform or MoonJune labels, but this album is released by less-known Toronto-based Reel label (and re-released by Norwegian Smalltown Superjazzz for Europe a year later) - and the release is surprisingly good! Sound quality and mastering are great both, and even if track-list isn't very unique, this recording contains possibly the most complete band's concert recordings from their classical period ever.

The release contains two live sets,each on separate CD, with rarely full concert sound (many similar recordings come from broadcasting archives or other small venues),with great hall acoustics. Band shows their rock energy in full, but at the same time you can hear their most continued sound experiments there. Both sets of compositions start with the modal tape looping experiments (influenced by Terry Riley),and it takes quite a big part of all concert's time.

Then both sets continue with complex and inspired jazz rocking jams,demonstrating band at its best.Soft Machine are in their classic line up as quartet, music is full of Elton dean sax solo improvs and Ratledge dynamic keyboards sound,but all musicians have enough space for improvisation there.The band's line-up,presented there on this live recordings,will be changed very soon, but this double CD is excellent evidence how great they were as live improvisational jazz rock band at the top of their career.

Report this review (#397212)
Posted Thursday, February 10, 2011 | Review Permalink

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