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The Soft Machine - The Peel Sessions CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine

Canterbury Scene

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4 stars The first CD in this double set includes the BBC sessions of the legendary 'septet' and Wyatt's 'BBC' version of Moon in June. This stuff is excellent and absolutely required listening for SM fans (also released as the second vinyl disc on 'Triple Echo'). The second CD is good, but not brilliant, however, it is still better than anything after Wyatt left.
Report this review (#22126)
Posted Monday, February 2, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is less a review, more a footnote to the wise words from other contributors.

The crown jewels of this collection are the John Peel session Soft Machine recorded as a septet with four horn players borrowed from Keith Tippett. It is the only available recording of this line-up. The themes are endlessly fascinating, the horn arrangements revelatory and the solos much more focussed than later, perhaps less effective recordings of the same material. Every player is on top form and the band swing like mad, no matter how far they stray into exotic time signatures and strange harmonic landscapes.

The session was recorded as a single, organic 20 minute set that started with Mousetrap/Noisette/Backwards and ended with Esther's Nose Job. On this release, and the earlier Triple Echo vinyl, the performance was inexplicably butchered by splitting it into two tracks and then placing them in the wrong order!

If you want this seminal work exactly as recorded in 1969, buy the BBC Radio 1967- 1971 collection on the Hux label rather than this compilation.

Report this review (#61943)
Posted Tuesday, December 27, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars Another nice Soft Machine compilation album....

John Peel was a legendary English DJ who invited a lot of bands to do sessions in his BBC studios. These sessions was recorded and most of them has been released on CDs/LPs now. In short; Peel Sessions is a British institution.

Soft Machine did their sessions between 1969 and 1971. This double album includes these sessions. The sound quality is great throughout. The line up is the classic Wyatt/Hopper/ Ratledge/Dean line up sometimes helped by three woodwinds players. The songs are mostly taken from Third.

Why only three stars for some music I really love ? There is a heck of a lot Soft Machines compilations around now with the same great sound, line ups and songs. My task here is to review and advice people what to buy. That's the same task as every reviewer has here, btw so that does not make me anything special. But although I love the music, this compilation is not one of these Soft Machine compilations I could live without. Hence; I am marking this down. I do not approve of live recordings cobbled together and released as compilations either. Hence my three stars, which is probably one less than I would had given if this was one live recording. Three stars it is.

3 stars

Report this review (#396308)
Posted Monday, February 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Besides of 13 studio albums (few of them are Soft Machine albums by the name only),there are plenty of archival live releases and compilations of previously unreleased broadcasts flowed the market.Some of them are really valuable,another just interesting and many - of very average value (usually bad sound quality and not very original material).

For everyone interested in Soft Machine legacy and ready to start listening their archival releases it's important to know where to start. I expect "The Peel Sessions" is one of great entrances.

The album contains previously unreleased recordings from BBC John Peel radio (Top Gear)broadcasts archives with quite acceptable sound quality and really interesting materials recorded. Compilation's opener is great "Moon In June", recorded at 10/6/1969. The musicians play as Wyatt/Hopper/Ratledge trio with Wyatt singing lyrics,specially prepared for this recording.Thirteen minutes long psychedelic pop composition with Wyatt's vocals mixed in front of the mix.

Next two compositions were recorded for another Top Gear broadcast at 10/11/1969 and are very interesting: besides of classic Soft Machine trio,on these recordings participates Keith Tippett's brass section (Elton Dean - alto sax,Nick Evans - trombone,Mark Charig - cornet,Lyn Dobson - soprano sax).Both them sound very unique - closer to brass free jazz combo,but with rock heaviness added. Excellent sax free jazz improvs on these compositions are between the best you can find on any Soft Machine's album at all!

Fourth (and last on disc 1) composition was recorded by Soft Machine as quartet with Elton Dean as band's member. Dean's soloing there is excellent - he has much more freedom and space for improvs than on any studio release.

Disc 2 opener Facelift comes from the same 1969 session as Moon In June.Virtually was recorded at 15/12/1970 by Soft Machine as quartet,Neo-Caliban Grides and Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening both were recorded by same line-up,but later (1/6/1971).Rest Drop and As If were recorded at 15/11/1971 by quartet,but with Phil Howard instead of Robert Wyatt on drums.

It's great that even compositions ,played without additional collaborators (as trio or quartet) are seriously different from their studio versions and generally are much more free-jazz influenced,improv-based, often with excellent Dean's and Ratledge soloing. In all,big part of album sounds as live recording of free jazz with some pre-composed material!

Album's recordings cover best band's period and are recorded in great atmosphere of John Peel broadcast sessions. Music sounds really inspired, material comes from band's best compositions, and two songs with free jazz brass section are really delicious.

One between band's best albums beside of few studio works of the same (classic) period.

Report this review (#396379)
Posted Monday, February 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars This album was one of many released highlighting the significance of John Peel's radio shows, from 1967 to 2004, featuring performances by a very wide variety of British bands. The Soft Machine must have been one of his favorites, as they appeared no less than ten different times between 1967 and 1973. These two disks were from shows recorded between 1969 and 1971, and capture the band as they were becoming Canterbury fusion legends.

The album consists primarily of songs from "Volume Two", "Third" and "Fourth", and contain very few vocals. And actually, for vocal songs, I like this version of Moon In June, with lyrics altered to honor Peel and his Top Gear radio show, better than the original, which was played mostly by Robert Wyatt alone.

The recordings are good quality, but the tapes show some distortion and wear from years of storage. The performances are wonderful, with all band members (and guest artists) playing at full bore.

While I would recommend the studio albums of the time over this album for listeners new to Soft Machine, I still have to give it a four star rating.

Report this review (#441376)
Posted Sunday, May 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Essential Soft Machine recording.

This is the BBC recording with Wyatt singing new lyrics to "Moon in June", which many feel is the penultimate version, and definitely a (if not THE) top example of the Canterbury sound. This set also includes the version of "Mousetrap" with with the three-piece brass section and the excellent trombone solo by Nick Evans on "Backwards" (which Caravan subsequently also covered in the middle of their "Hunting We Shall Go" suite on 'For Girls who Grow Plump in the Night'). Following this, there is the classic 1970-71 quartet of Wyatt, Ratledge, Hopper and Dean playing pieces from Third. All together, these are the same exact recordings that make up the second lp in the three-record best-of collection 'Triple Echo'. The second disc contains more quartet recordings of "Facelift", "Virtually", and "Neo Caliban Grides", and closing the side Wyatt's improv of "Dedicated to You but...". Rounding out the second disc are two songs recorded after Wyatt left and Phil Howard had joined: "Drop" and a real gem "As If". Both were recorded on Fifth, with "As if" recorded with John Marshall on drums, and that version is very clean and dry, not at all alive. This version with Howard on drums is about as close as one will get to having the song with Wyatt. It is fresh, dynamic, alive, and although I think Wyatt would have done an even better job, this is about as close as one can get to that alternate reality. It is really SO much better than the John Marshall version. The sound quality is excellent too. It all adds up to an essential album. Indeed, while these are BBC recordings not meant to be released as an official album, I consider this to be the second-best ever Soft Machine 'album', after Third, which I consider their masterpiece. I give this 9.4 out of 10 on my 10-point scale. Absolutely essential.

Report this review (#1697023)
Posted Sunday, February 26, 2017 | Review Permalink

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