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Soft Heap

Canterbury Scene

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Soft Heap Soft Heap album cover
3.53 | 59 ratings | 8 reviews | 17% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1979

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Circle Line (6:54)
2. A.W.O.L. (9:35)
3. Petit 3's (6:17)
4. Terra Nova (10:03)
5. Fara (6:42)
6. Short Hand (3:11)

Total Time: 42:42

Line-up / Musicians

- Elton Dean / alto sax, saxello
- Alan Gowen / piano, synths
- Hugh Hopper / bass
- Pip Pyle / drums

- Mark Charig / trumpet (5)
- Radu Malfatti / trombone (5)

Releases information

Artwork: Starshine Graphics

LP Charly Records ‎- CRL 5014 (1979, UK)

CD Spalax Music ‎- 14839 (1995, France)
CD Esoteric Recordings ‎- ECLEC2131 (2009 UK) 24-bit remaster by Ben Wiseman

Thanks to Zac M for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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SOFT HEAP Soft Heap ratings distribution

(59 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(17%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(37%)
Good, but non-essential (36%)
Collectors/fans only (10%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

SOFT HEAP Soft Heap reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Philo
3 stars Soft Heap were something of a short lived minor Canterbury super group. Containing members of both Soft Machine and Hatfield And The North Soft Heap was the only album released by the band, a live album A Veritable Centaur was released in 1995, and while a strong enough album it would be hard to envision where the band could move to without making the same statement all over again with regards a second Soft Heap studio release. Though live the band must have been a very different and very viable ensemble. The Soft Machine line up that featured both Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean produced arguably their most creative and exciting music, and along with drummer Pip Pyle and keyboard player Alan Gowen Soft Heap would look to have the ammunition to hark back to those days but ultimately the album never reaches the heights that might have been expected. The tunes are good, some light avant-garde prog, some jazz workouts highlighted by Elton Dean's idiosyncratic sax lines, but never get into a solid cohesive gear. Gowen does his best to add a differential layer and even recreates a Mike Ratledge type distorted line but without the ingenuity. For the most part, collectively, Soft Heap sounds like parts of Soft Machine's Fourth and 5 albums and more an attempt to recapture old glories and roll back the years rather than to stamp their authority to create a new energy and a new unit. The name Soft Heap is far too obvious. Had this line up and subsequent album emerged a few years earlier it might have been a more energised and urgent effort but for 1979 Soft Heap sounds out of time, but leaving the critical opinion to one side, Soft Heap is a good album, especially the rolling dreamy jazz of "Petit 3's" with Dean producing some sweet saxophone, but what lets it down is the obvious attempt to rehash a genuine Soft Machine vibe now that the Karl Jenkins led one had finally disbanded.
Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars What a lineup ! Elton Dean on sax, Pip Pyle on drums, Alan Gowen on keys, and Hugh Hopper on bass.There is a SOFT MACHINE flavour to this album partly to do with Dean and Hopper's presence. Of course when the first part of the band's name has Soft in it the connection becomes obvious. The Heap part came about by taking the first initials of the four members first names.The music here has an avant-garde flavour at times, but is distinctly Canterbury / Jazz. I like the way Wayside Music describes it as combining the tune oriented work of Hopper and Gowen with the free leanings of Dean.

"Circle Line" is a Hopper composition and he makes his presence known on bass during the latter half of this track. The first half opens with smooth sax melodies that are lazily played. Keys and light drums add to the sound as the sax gets a little dissonant. Pyle becomes more active as well. "A.W.O.L." is the only song that was composed by the whole group. Bass and drums lead the way as sax and keys jump in and out of the proceedings. Dissonant sounds 2 minutes in without any melody. It becomes experimental for a while as bass, sax, drums and keys all start to slowly break out after 5 minutes.There is so much going on as these intricate sounds continue. Amazing ! "Petit 3's" is a Gowen tune. Sax is prominant until a minute in when keys take over. Sax is back 3 minutes in as Pyle works his magic on the drums.

"Terra Nova" is the longest song and a Dean composition. It's darker sounding with sax with liquid keys. Drums and keys take over 3 minutes in. Sax is back a minute later and it gets dissonant at times.The darker sounds from the intro are back after 8 minutes as Pyle pounds away. "Fara" opens with trumpet from guest Marc Charig (SOFT MACHINE, KING CRIMSON and Robert Wyatt solo etc.) as drums and keys help out. Sax and bass then join in on this reserved tune.The trumpet after 4 minutes becomes a little loud and noisy. Sax is back. "Short Hand" is another Gowen tune.This one is uptempo with a rhythm that starts and stops.Some crazy sax comes in as drums are all over the place. Dean and Pyle just let it all hang out until 2 1/2 minutes in when the melody from the intro returns. Cool tune.

Incredibly well played."A.W.O.L." is my favourite tune. Funny but I enjoyed listening to the musicians playing more than actually enjoying the music. Well i'm half way there.3.5 stars rounded up because of the legends involved.

Review by Sean Trane
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!

After leaving Soft Machine after their fifth album (in 72), Elton dean returned to the jazz scene for a few years and created his own groups and projects like Just Us, Elton Dean Quartet and big band Ninesense. Around Jan 78, Soft Heap was created by him with ex- Hatfield and Gligamesh members Pip Pyle and Alan Gowan, and Elton thought of inviting his old buddy and ex-Machinist Hugh Hopper. Thus the name of the band being a bit of revenge, using the Soft part of the Machine, the Heap being their respective forename's first letter. (Thus Soft Head was the same, when Pyle was unavailable and they called upon Dave Shean). Sadly Esoteric Record did not find any extra tracks lying around for this album's only second reissue, but deliver some neat liner notes.

Starting slowly , as if from a Tery riley album, the gorgeous Circle Line is the only Hopper- penned track, but certainly the most poignant on this album, in no small part due to Elton's impression of Coltrane. The collective jamming AWOL is a much more furious affair, breathing Elton's intentions with Phil Howard's short tenure of the drum stool in Soft Machine. Demented and sometimes spacey, but never really totally dissonant either. Gowen's Petit 3's is a much quieter affair with the dominating electric piano, but the slow groove is evolving a bit in an early Nucleus lava stream, pouring down a volcano's cone. Cool yet torrid, but not reaching the apex you'd wish it had.

The flipside starts on the Terra Nova were the Softs would be meeting Coltrane on the way to Ascenscion, but not reaching the summit either, even though this is the album's best track. The other Dean composition Fara is a slow jazz, close to standard granddaddy jazz and it sticks out a bit from the rest of the album. Not even old Tippettt mate Mark Charig can bring much excitement to this crooning jazz track that's only missing Louis or Ella's vocals. The closing short Hand is a free-form jazz piece written by Gowan, and sticks out just as muchas its predecessor, but in the opposite direction. True enough, Soft Heap has the inevitable Soft machine traits, but you won't catch this writer to say that they were trying to revive a spirit, even though by now, the SM mothership had folded after much more line-up changes.

A very worthy one shot album from a group that would go on to record under this name but with different personnel, their debut remaining their best. Both Gowan and Pyle woud go on in National Health (this album was a bit delayed to that group's schedule), but today as I write this review, Soft Heap is the first prog group (let's put aside Jimi Hendrix Experience), with Hugh Hopper's death, this group is the first to extinct by all of its members, something I'd have rather not seen or known

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Short-lived Canterbury scene supergroup, founded by ex-Soft Machine sax player Elton Dean after he left SM (he had few more short-lived projects in between). Other members all are Canterbury scene great musicians: Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine) , Pip Pyle and Alan Gowan (Hatfield and The North both).

And if still in similar key with jazz-rock period Soft Machine, this album is more Elton Dean - project. His sax is main instrument, even if all musicians are excellent and total musicianship is great. The music, comparing with Soft Machine's is more jazz, than slightly psychedelic jazz-rock. Some compositions are almost pure sax-led jazz, with vintage (read-bop) influences. Much more melancholic and even romantic..

Unhappily, this album is the only studio work of great project. You will like it more if you like jazzy roots in Canterbury sound, those more in rock side could be a bit disappointed. But in whole - must have album for every Canterbury sound fan. Three and half for sure.

Review by stefro
4 stars Made up from members of Gilgamesh, Soft Machine and Caravan, Soft Heap were a complex, jazzy and, sadly, short-lived supergroup-of-sorts, who were active at the back-end of the seventies for a short while, producing this memorable studio album in 1978 as well as a live release called 'Al Dente' a year later. Featuring the supremely-talented Alan Gowen(keyboards) - who would die tragically at just 33 thanks to cancer - as well as Pip Pyle(drums), Elton Dean(sax), Hugh Hopper(bass) and Marc Charig(trombone), Soft Heap failed to generate any genuine commercial success in their truncated time together but did garner a cult following that has slowly grown over the years, thanks in part to progressive rock's rise in popularity since the early 1990's. Those familiar with either the 'Seven' or 'Bundles' albums by many of this group's former employers Soft Machine will find muc to admire here, though, 'Soft Heap' does add an electronic glaze to the sophisticated jazz overalls that cultivates an identity of it's own. Alan Gowen is very much the lead player, showcasing his phenomenal keyboard abilities to full effect whilst never completely dominating proceedings and thus allowing each his of cohorts the space and time they need to develop their own individual ideas and themes. Loose and mellow jazz-prog, expertly delivered. STEFAN TURNER, LONDON, 2010
Review by seventhsojourn
3 stars Despite the spag bol cover art, Soft Heap wasn't a legendary RPI band but the royal jelly of the late-seventies Canterbury scene. The music they inflict on listeners here is quite a challenge and to be honest I find it hard going in places. There's no denying the importance of this work and the technical virtuosity of the musicians involved but the end result is a baffling musical meshwork that a simpleton like yours truly can't fully untangle.

The music is generally listless, a characteristic that reaches its culmination on the half- somnolent but utterly beautiful ''Petit 3's'', although one or two tracks are interwoven with moments of almost fanatical intensity. A case in point is ''Terra Nova'' where sax and electric piano jockey for position while synthesizer hovers in the background, and this intro is nicely counterpointed by the energetic ululations of Elton Dean's sax in the main body of the piece.

The main problem for me is that there's not enough rock and a bit too much straight ahead jazz on offer, with the album's final pair of tracks being the main offenders in these respects. Overall there are some interesting moments but at its core this is a fairly dull listening experience. It doesn't quite make me want to pull my teeth out so I'll give it a generous 3-stars, but it's probably one to suck and see before you part with your hard-earned cash.

Latest members reviews

3 stars Challenging - to say the least! 3.5 Firstly - and I am sorry to say - all members of this band have left us over the years. Great artists who left their mark on the music scene collectively and individually. RIP. There is little point for me to repeat what's already stated in the Bio. Su ... (read more)

Report this review (#965348) | Posted by BORA | Sunday, May 26, 2013 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I like very much Soft Machine and I can listen all Soft Machine athmosphere in this album. Great Guitar and bass works that the improvisation is excelent. Some very fast guitar scales and a very good drum's work. Great drumer player because to me, drums in jazz works, are very dificult to play ... (read more)

Report this review (#229364) | Posted by Joćo Paulo | Saturday, August 1, 2009 | Review Permanlink

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