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The Soft Machine Alive in Paris-1970 album cover
4.48 | 32 ratings | 4 reviews | 62% 5 stars

Essential: a masterpiece of
progressive rock music

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DVD/Video, released in 2008

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Facelift (18:57)
2. Eamonn Andrews (7:17)
3. Backwards/Mousetrap reprise (4:08)
4. Out bloody rageous (15:45)
5. Robert Wyatt vocal improvisation (2:53)
6. Esther's nosejob (9:53)

Total Time: 62:00

Line-up / Musicians

- Hugh Hopper / bass guitars
- Robert Wyatt / drums, vocals
- Mike Ratledge / lowrey organ
- Elton Dean / Alto saxophone, saxello
- Lyn Dobson / Soprano saxophone, harmonica, flute, voice

Releases information

Filmed 2 March 1970,Theatre de la Musique,Paris,France

Thanks to psarros for the addition
and to Snow Dog for the last updates
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THE SOFT MACHINE Alive in Paris-1970 ratings distribution

(32 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(62%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(25%)
Good, but non-essential (9%)
Collectors/fans only (0%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

THE SOFT MACHINE Alive in Paris-1970 reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
5 stars Well Cuneiform had hit it big with their Grides release, where the second disc was a DVD, the first of any kind about Soft Machine, let alone this period, their most eagerly awaited during their expansion to a quintet. When I encountered thiis release on Voiceprint, I first cursed them for putting this out on the market (instead of others), because Voiceprint is the first offender when it comes to putting second rate SM material (the realease of Facelift, anione?). Not being able to resist buying, I secured a deal with the shop owner that if I thought the content was bad, I could return it (it isn't cheap either). Well I was well inspired to have jumped on this, as this cioncert is absolutely pristine both sound-wise and image- wise, if you'll except one of two exception when one of the two blower is way too much in the background. Apart from that these tapes were shot by the French TV and a producer that was obviously aware of the group's set (SM was probably the UK band most popular in France, getting numerous gigs) and the tapes were kept at Institut National des Archives.

Actually if SM was a quintet at this time, they had trimmed down from a septet, as there were four hornmen that joined them at first, some that most progheads had seen through Crimson and Keith Tippett. Mark Charig and Nick Evans left fairly quickly, leaving Lynn Dobson and Elton, Dean at the forefront of SM, and Dobson would hang on much longer either. So this absolutely stunning concert with Lynn Dobson is a rare document and unusual: ever heard a flute or harmonica in early SM?? Well Dobson indulges a few times on the flute (quite well actually), but only once (thankfully) at the harmonica. The track list is the one that was usual in 70, so no surprises there. All of the interest is coming that for the second time only, we're able to QSEE this group play, and furthermore in a rare formation where Dobson shines (even outshines a bit Elton) because of his multi-instrumentalist role, propelling him at the forfront of the stage.

If I said the quality was pristine at the top of this review, I was exaggerating, as there are a few jumps and quick glitches and between tracks, the levels are not always well controlled. And of course Voiceprint is back at their usual tricks, not being able o produce the same track list sequence in the DVD menu than on the back cover. Old habits die hard, but at least this DVD is definitely worth your investigations, although the full price is a hefty investment.

Review by Man With Hat
COLLABORATOR Jazz-Rock/Fusion/Canterbury Team
4 stars If I could go back in time to see various concerts when I wasn't alive, I would easily choose this gig. Or at least one in this time frame.

Soft Machine circa 1970 are often regarded as one of the best line ups SM produced, and this DVD shows why. From start to finish is a wild ride featuring everything you love about Soft Machine (and maybe even more)...Wyatt's frantic (and subdued) drumming, top notch sax solos, constantly engrossing basslines, Wyatt's freeform vocals, and the man with the sun glasses. In addition to all this, we get some lovely flute work (and some curious harmonica work) courtesy of Lyn Dobson (and may I add it's a shame he didn't stick around longer in the Machine). I would have to agree with Mr. Trane that Dobson steals the shows from Dean, who isn't a slouch in his own right.

The show starts off with a killer rendition of Facelift (perhaps my favorite SM song). The duel sax lineup is perfect for that almost hard-rockin' main riff. This is supported my the audiance. Yes, it is true. Part of the audiance (what seem to be young 20 or so year olds) is doing all but moshing! Hilarious, in my humble opinion. Anyway, this is our first look at the excellent and aforementioned flute work of Dobby. My only complaint is that Facelift ends quite abrutply. After this, the track list on the back gets punched out. A seemingly unplanned cut to Robert Wyatt's Vocal Improv takes place next, which breaks the continuity of things a bit. Following this comes Ester's Nosejob, which is again indicated incorrectly by the back of box. Part II is played straight through, starting out with a nice version of Out-Bloody- Rageous (sadly missing the beginning keyboard madness as is on the studio album). However, this contains the better of the two flute solos, in my opinion. Afterwards, the DVD rolls along nicely with with some Eamonn Andrews and what seems to me as a particualar fun version of Backwards/Mousetrap Reprise.

With all the excellent things one can say about this DVD, there is one glaring error as seen my this reviewers eyes. The camera work. Perhaps its a French thing, perhaps they were trying to make it theatrical, or conform to some period of art/video, but for me its mostly distracting/hilarious. I can understand shots of the audiance (especially when they were being as exciting as I noted eariler), but shots of Wyatt's elbow and cymbal stand, a really zoomed in shot of Dean/Dobson's face, or the back of Ratledge's head, I don't understand. Additionally, there are few (if any!) shots of the entire band on stage. (At one or two points its possible they all make it in the shot, if only the top of Ratledge's head or the left side of Hopper.) Instead, they choose to shoot a wide shot from the back of the stage so all you could see is Wyatt's back, and some heads sticking out. While that isn't a bad thing in itself, being the panoramic view of band is a bit disconcerting. However, that is not by biggest complaint. There is a part of the show where the camera decides to move behind some speakers or equipment boxes and the entire screen is black, or at least five seconds. This is the worst thing to do, IMHO, being I'm watching this to actually SEE the band, not just hear them. But, aside from these two horrid decisions, the cameras are mostly chuckle producing and don't detract much if any from the show.

All in all, this is a great document of a great band during what could be considered their artistic peak. Despite the camera woes, there is little to fault here. The music is excellent and entertaining, the song selectiong is pretty damn good, and for a band that many believe excelled in the live setting having this certainly backs that claim up (and being there considerable lacking in visual edvince of SM out there, and certainly this line-up of it, this is made all the more essential). Soft Machine fans have no reason not to own this. 4.5 stars. Thoroughly recommended!

Review by crimson87
4 stars Essential=Masterpiece???

Soft Machine fans had to wait such a long time to get live material from they beloved band. And finally , this Alive in Paris satisfies our needs offering us the band in full regalia. 1970 was probabll the best year in the history of the group and we have quite an amazing show here. It's quite funny to watch some frenchmen go nuts when "Facelift" begins , but I was headbanging with them as well!! Here we have two tracks from Third like "Out Bloddy Rageous" and the already mentioned , plus "Esther's nose job" and some improvisations in which you can tell what's to come in Fourth.

Musically , the only letdown of the show were Robert Wyatt vocal improvisations , they seem really whimsical and don't fit well with the rest of the set. Before Esther's. begins we are faced with a critic taliking about the band and personally , I find two negative aspects in here. The first one is that this section is very bad placed , It would have been better if we could access to it as a bonus feature and not as part of the show. And the second one is that we have no subtitles here so I cannot understand what this bloke is saying.

In the second section of the show the music is outstanding , there is a sax solo during "Out Bloddy Rageous" that I love , Elton Dean goes insane!! Also , Wyatt's (drumming) performance is top notch. But if there is someone to blame here are the cameramen , this guys chose the weirdest places to film! Examples: Behind Wyatt's shoulder , behind the sound equipment and never , I repeat never they come up with a full close up of the whole band. I don't know if this problem affects all 70's videos since I ve found the same problem or even worse in VDGG's "Godbluff Live". It's a pity since the shots they take and the angles they use can really affect your appreciation here.

Now , according to the site a 5 stars qualification means the following: Essential , a masterpiece of progressive music". For the moment Alive in Paris 1970" is an essential release for Soft Machine fans and Canterbury freaks in general. But it has major flaws that prevent me from giving that qualification.

Review by ALotOfBottle
5 stars The amount of live Soft Machine material released since the 90's may seem overwhelming to many listeners. However, so far, only a few concerts have been officially released on DVD. In 2008, the English record label Voiceprint, released the French POP 2 TV recordings of the band performing at Théâtre De La Musique in Paris on 2 March 1970.

Since the very early days of Soft Machine's existence, France has been showing big enthusiasm for their music. Way back in 1967, the band spent the whole summer gigging local venues in Saint-Tropez, one of the major towns of the French Riviera. Although in those three years the band's musical direction has changed drastically, the French audience proved equally welcoming and interested in 1970.

The line-up of Soft Machine at the time included the studio personnel that recorded Third with the extraordinarily talented wind player Lyn Dobson, who appears on the live-cut "Facelift" on the album. The atmosphere of the concert looks and sounds unrepeatable and after all these years, one can still feel the incredible chemistry between the musicians that was at work at that very point in time. The band not only presents incredible amounts of energy and vigor, but also technical and musical know-how, together with a rare ability to build powerful tensions, hypnotizing the audience. The set lasts just over an hour and during that hour, Soft Machine perfectly capture the spirit of their style around this period, which so many live releases have tried to document. The visual aspect undoubtedly adds to the experience, enabling us to witness, among many elements, Mike Ratledge's Keith Jarrett-like trance movements at the keyboards, the power and dedication Robert Wyatt puts into his drumming, the interaction and sax duels between Lyn Dobson and Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper's agile fingers pulling off difficult grooves and melodies on bass guitar, and young French audience, completely astonished by the music. As to the filming, the camera work is decent, except for a few unneeded shots and sudden cuts from one track to another. We get to view the band clearly from numerous different perspectives and have a close inside look at their stage set-up.

The opening of "Facelift," kept in an unsettling experimental psychedelic manner, may remind one of a slightly more technical and rock-oriented version of the way Miles Davis redefined jazz on the revolutionary Bitches Brew, which, interestingly, was released three weeks after this concert took place. The main theme of the piece, played by the whole band simultaneously, is followed by lengthy improvisation, which starts out on a steady rhythm, but fades into a mellower, remote and illusory territory after a few repeats. Lyn Dobson gets to really display his multiinstrumentalist abilities. He switches between soprano sax, flute, harmonica on his solo, and even uses his voice as an instrument briefly. When the tempo picks up once again, Elton Dean first appears with a saxello - a small variant of a soprano saxophone, different in build and, obviously, the sound. Seemingly out of nowhere appears what is credited as "Robert Wyatt Vocal Improv." Here, Robert Wyatt uses tape echo and spring reverb devices in conjunction with his voice for a very odd, yet immensely expressive effect. This transforms into "Esther's Nose Job" (what was it about those plastic surgeries?), a classic Soft Machine piece, which, originally appeared on 1969's Volume Two, however these two versions bear little similarity. The track alternates between a simple laidback progression in 7/8 and a rapid passage with notably interesting work by Robert Wyatt on drums and Hugh Hopper on bass guitar. If "Facelift" was, for a good part, a demonstration of Lyn Dobson's abilities, Elton Dean showcases his own approach to improvisation on "Esther's Nose Job." The track is closed by a few more blurred sentences from Wyatt and a reprise of the theme at a break-neck speed.

After a break, the band comes back on stage with "Eamonn Andrews," yet another classic piece, which never made it into any studio record. The pulse of this one is once again quite tricky with the main motif combining classic jazz-fusion methods with somewhat of a minimal influence on the rhythm. After fine solos from both of the wind players, "Eamonn Andrews" suddenly cuts into "Backwards," a really touching, beautiful, calm, romantic piece with a very interesting progression. The emotional, lyrical flute playing by Lyn Dobson is supported by Robert Wyatt's sublime drumming and light liquid organ touches from Mike Ratledge. "Backwards" slowly starts growing in power, with the theme of "Mousetrap" making a short appearance, to finally settle on "Out-Bloody-Rageous," arguably one of the better-known Soft Machine compositions. Of course, the live scenario cannot reproduce the Terry Riley-like intro heard on record, but this version is very good nonetheless, with great improvisation on Mike Ratledge's overdriven Lowrey organ, Elton Dean's alto and Lyn Dobson's soprano saxophones. After a loud and effective ending, the band walks off stage, only leaving an even louder standing ovation behind.

I daresay Alive in Paris 1970 is an essential watch and listen for every Soft Machine enthusiast and is recommended to those wanting to get an all-around taste of the incredible energy and passion the band presented live. The musical content is of the highest order, the recording quality is very high, and the image is more than satisfactory, which leads me to a conclusion that this DVD is one of the "ultimate" Soft Machine live documents. The Voiceprint label definitely deserve a big acknowledgement for allowing the listeners to get as close as possible to what the lucky audience got to experience on March 2 1970 at Théâtre De La Musique in Paris. Definitely worth your investigation. 4½ stars rounded up!

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