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The Soft Machine

Canterbury Scene

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The Soft Machine Alive & Well - Recorded in Paris album cover
3.02 | 93 ratings | 12 reviews | 12% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Live, released in 1978

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. White Kite (3:00)
2. Eos (1:22)
3. Odds Bullets and Blades, Pt. 1 (2:18)
4. Odds Bullets and Blades, Pt. 2 (2:33)
5. Song of the Sunbird (1:24)
6. Puffin (1:18)
7. Huffin (5:12)
8. Number Three (2:25)
9. The Nodder (7:13)
10. Surrounding Silence (4:04)
11. Soft Space (8:17)

Total Time 39:06

Line-up / Musicians

- Steve Cook / bass guitar
- John Etheridge / acoustic & electric guitars
- Karl Jenkins / piano, electric keyboards and syntheziser
- John Marshall / drums, percussion
- Rick Sanders / violin

Releases information

Recorded in Paris at the Theatre Le Palace, Montmartre, from four concerts given there on the 6th till 9th of July 1977, with the Manor Mobile Recording Unit. Additional recording and mixing at Advision Studios London

LP: Harvest SHSP 4083 (UK), Harvest 14C 062-60438 (Greece),Toshiba EMI Ltd SHSP-4083 (Japan)

CD: See For Miles SEE 290 (1990)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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THE SOFT MACHINE Alive & Well - Recorded in Paris ratings distribution

(93 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(12%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(39%)
Good, but non-essential (38%)
Collectors/fans only (9%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

THE SOFT MACHINE Alive & Well - Recorded in Paris reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
3 stars (tenth in a serie of ten)

Add another halfstar really!! The main news here are that there are no more reeds but also a violinist has joined them and they keep on rolling from the new impetus created by Bundles. Clearly all three Harvest releases by the Machine are excellent but at this one , you can slightly feel the wearyness , but this is probably nit-picking on my part. Around the time of release , there had been a lot of rumours about the band breaking up. So they called this one Alive and well but this was also to be the last album for a few years to come. On the whole , one can expect the same kind of fusion heard in the previous two but with the noted change of instrument noted at the top of my review.

If you had been patient enough to stick this far with Soft Machine , please stop at this one since they should have done just that . The next one (Cockayne) can only deceive you . What is to say about this album? Well that this is no must hear but is still very worthy of S M but is only for the maniacs. The music in here is a far cry from Third or Four.

Review by Philo
3 stars If we can forget for a minute the colourful history of the Soft Machine, the unique and pioneering act from the Canterbury scene, the Bizarre and eclectic musical stylings on the first four albums and listen to Alive And Well: Recorded In Paris for what it is. A very well executed live album of jazz rock fusion. And though live this album contains new material. Roy Babbington who had been on board since Fourth made way for Steve Cook on bass. Jenkins also recruited Rick Sanders on violin and then Softies headed to France especially to record the album that would finally put Soft Machine to bed. At least until the early eighties when the Land Of Cockayne thingy emerged regrettably. The performances here over four nights at the Theatre Le Palace, a small theatre, are electrifying and for the first time the electric guitar fits in and finds its own niche. John Etheridge plays his heart out on this album and even puts Soft Machine's latest leader Karl Jenkins in the shade, or at least into a back seat for a while. Etheridge's guitar is extremely prominent throughout this album and I guess he was lucky to have any guitar whatsoever. After the first night of this short French trek the Soft Machine had their van raided by some Parisienne thief. Guitars along with other equipment was stolen. The band members ended up having to borrow gear from elsewhere to finish off their mini French excursion and get their record done. But the change of familiar instrumentation to newer and untried machines seems to have effected the balance little. There is a finely honed atmosphere on the album and it is actually hard to believe that this album is actually live, it is crisp and clear and after almost twenty seven years still sounds bright and big. Though I am sure a few overdubs were pasted in but it still sounds impressive. One of the more unusual pieces on Alive And Well: Recorded In Paris is the techno like studio cut "Soft Space", a tune well ahead of its era with its throbbing synthetic drum beats and rhythmic acoustic guitar falling into sympathy. Apparently Jenkins wanted drummer John Marshall to record his kick bass drum and snare parts separately and this is what gives this piece the big powerful machine-gun like sound, it comes across like a thundering drum machine and by all accounts Marshall was unsatisfied with this approach, but then drummers are odd fellows to work with. Good album and a fitting coda to the Karl Jenkins led Soft Machine. Even old hand and original Softie Mike Ratledge dropped by to help with the synth arrangement on some of it.
Review by Zac M
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This is a decent live release that was issued when the Softs were going through turnulant times (hence the title), when they wanted to affiirm that they were not broken up ...yet. This album sounds nothing like the previous effort, Rubber Riff, which is a good thing. Only Etheridge, Jenkins, and Marshall survived and made to this album. They decided to add a violinist in the mix aling with a new bass player. The violin definitley makes for an interesting Softs album. Now, on to the review.

Most of the tracks on this release aer again Jenkin's compositions, although Etheridge and Saunders (violin) get to have their own pieces as well. The liner notes also state that the music was directed by Marshall and Jenkins. This live album helps define the new era of Soft Machine that was start around Seven and Bundles, a mix jazz-rock, new age, acid rock, avant-gade, and even dance music. This really is a particularly good live album. The best tracks are Soft Space, an extremely catchy pre-techno techno piece, and Puffin and Huffin, although Saunder's violin piece, Surrounding Silence is excellent also.

If you enjoy the work of latter-day Soft Machine, you should pick up this album. It is definitely an interesting live document that shows Soft Machine during a turbulent time. Although this is the case, they still manage to pull off this great live album. I give it 3.5 stars; it's worth your time.

Review by NetsNJFan
3 stars While this hardly qualifies as classic SOFT MACHINE, it is nonetheless an enjoyable jazz- fusion live album. As with the two previous releases, the excellent "Bundles" (1975) and the very good "Softs" (1976), the band is firmly under the direction of former reedman, now keyboardist Karl Jenkins. Gone is the Canterbury/Psyche silliness of the Wyatt period, or the free jazz experimentation of the Hopper/Ratledge period, replaced with rather usual, though good, jazz fusion. Karl Jenkins provides much of the material, which revolves around repetitive riffs, (which John Etheridge on guitar handles very capably) and few very beautiful melodies.

Highlights include "Number Three", with some excellent solo acoustic guitar from Etheridge, who proved a worthy successor to the inimitable Alan Holdsworth. "Soft Space", which closes the record, is what the title says it is, spacy, verging on techno (in 1978!). This new direction for the SOFTS is also a highlight, and hints at Karl Jenkins later works. "The Nodder" is also very good, with Jenkins laying some synth flourishes around slow, but shifting riffing from Etheridge. The rest of the material is all solid, though not instantly memorable. The addition of Rick Sanders on violin certainly diversified some tracks, but the loss of Jenkins' reeds is a huge to the SM sound.

Overall, a very enjoyable, pleasant record, a cut above most jazz fusion though not quite up to the standards of works by BRUFORD or BRAND X. It's closer to a toned down MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA. Essential for fans of the SOFT MACHINE, recommended for jazz fusion fans, casual prog fans or SOFT MACHINE beginners, stay clear.

3/5 = a good effort, though not essential. (R. Katzwer, 12/30/05)

Review by clarke2001
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
1 stars What is this?!? What a strange record... Well, here's another slippery one that is difficult to pin down...this is highly experimental...but not "noisy" or "cacophonic", no... It's actually very melodic and jazzy. But all the SOFT MACHINE works are jazzy and melodic to some extent, so I guess that's not a good description.

However, forget about the frequent line-up changes of the band; this one is nor similar to the beginning, nor tho the "Third", nor to the "Bundles"... It is a standalone piece.

It just does not stand very tall. Well, I guess the band missed the point here. This is a short live document, and it's not very inspirational. Implementation of ideas is just can find a traces of, of course, jazz; acoustic guitar work, French easy listening music, ambiental sounscapes and highly electronic passages...with very repetitive sequences - something that will be common in music ten years later, but this one is obviously a child of the late can't miss that keyboards...and flanged bass guitar.

My problem with this record is the fact that I can't find any traces of emotions here, and all the songs are just patchworks of badly implemented ideas - and these ideas aren't very good at first place. There are few good moments here and there - brilliant bass work, good keyboard tapestries, but that's about it. Guitar work is aslo outstanding, but that doesn't mean that it's good - it's technical just for the sake of virtuosity.This album simply passed badly on the test of time. No, I'm wrong. It was never a part of the era or an opus. It's simply cold live document, band's black sheep, useless.

The difference itself shouldn't be a problem, but this one never had grown on me. It's just a bad experiment, a failure. I would rather listen to punk rock. This is the thing that killed prog.

Never mind. Let's move on.

Review by febus
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam

ALIVE AND WELL is a live album recorded in Paris where SOFT MACHINE always had a strong following through its diverse incarnations. As one can guess, this is -AGAIN- a new line- up performing on this album. This is SOFT MACHINE, after all!! ROY BABBINGTON bowed out after the excellent SOFTS and was replaced by STEVE COOK , but the most noticeable change is the arrival of a violonist named RICK SANDERS. Another- BIG- difference with the past is the total disparition of reeds. ALAN WAKEMAN was no longer in the band and KARL JENKINS only played keyboards back then.

I haven't heard before of a SOFT MACHINE album without a saxophone, a trademark SF characteristic. Even on the first album and VOLUME 2, horns could be heard occasionally here and there played by BRIAN HOPPER, the brother of HUGH. So now we have a quintet guitar-bass-drums-keyboards-violin. Doesn't it remind you MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA kind of line-up? Of course, you are right and the thing is the music sounds very close to JOHN MCLAUGHLIN and CO first version, BIRDS OF FIRE period.

SOFT MACHINE was in the past a band known and admired for its adventurous musical spirit and was a leader of the progressive movement always trying to go forward with new experimentations. Since KARL JENKINS took over the band, this spirit was lost as the new SOFT MACHINE went for a more classical Jazz/rock/fusion sound played by hundreds of other bands following the influences of MAHAVISHNU, RETURN TO FOREVER and other WEATHER REPORT.

If SOFT MACHINE was no longer a musical pioneer , it doesn't mean everything went wrong as this SF period came with 2 great albums, an excellent BUNDLES and one of my all-time fave, the magnificent SOFTS. ALIVE AND WELL is a live album but sounds like a studio one as the quality of the recording is very clear and you don't hear much of the attendance.Also, there are only new songs on this album, even if some of them sounds like ''deja vu''.

Pieces like EOS or PUFFIN are definitely MAHAVISHNU clones with those ETHERIDGE guitar scales ,well in the style of what you can hear on BIRDS OF FIRE. The same goes for ODD BULLETS with a very classic fusion sounding, not very original at all, but of course impeccably performed. In between speeding numbers, you will find some spacey keyboards tunes such as WHITE KITE or SONG OF THE SUNBIRD and a very nice acoustic performance from guitarist JOHN ETHERIDGE on NUMBER 3.

The only amazing and strange addition on this album is the last piece SOFT SPACE. If you have followed SOFT MACHINE since their early days, even if you only know the KARL JENKINS era, SOFT SPACE will come to you as a schock! we had psychedelic SOFT MACHINE in the past, we had jazz SF, avant guard SF, fusion SF, now we have ''dancing SOFT MACHINE'' . SOFT SPACE is some kind of a disco/ techno tune , not short, more than 8 mns that really could put you on a dance floor. This is far away from FACELIFT, believe me. SOFT MACHINE , the founder of techno?? hey, why not? we are only in 1978!

This is a very well played performance, the rythm new section of COOKS-JENKINS is very tight and brings a lot of energy to this concert. The violonist SANDERS adds a different sound to the band, but the star is once again the guitarist JOHN ETHERIDGE who plays like a crazy possessed soul with frenetic and furious solos but also excels in the more introvertive melodic sections KARL JENKINS stays a background with his keyboards like a conductor of his orchestra.

This is a good album, just lacking of originality or personality; the new songs are traditional fusion as there are no outwordly compositions like BAN BAN CALIBAN or THE TALE OF TALIESIN from SOFTS. If you like this JENKINS era, you have to get this album, otherwise try first SOFTS or BUNDLES!!


Review by The Quiet One
2 stars Soft Machine's Guitar Phase continues Alive but not that Well

Can you believe Soft Machine with a violin player instead of a sax player? Well you can't, because there is a saxophone/oboe player on board, that is Karl Jenkins, but in this performance he decided to play solely the keyboards, and as a replacement to the sax/oboe there's a violin player adding a unique though not so sparking substance to Soft Machine.

The rest of the band plays equally in the jazz rock style of Bundles and Softs, and that's where the problem is. I love that style, which means I love Bundles and Softs, but with Alive & Well the compositions became very samey to the ones featured in the aforementioned albums and that's not a good thing for a band to do. However, with the complete abscence of the sax/oboe and the presence of a violin player there must be at least slight differences, right?

Well yes there is, the violin adds every now and then some decent solos but really nothing not heard already in bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Frank Zappa, and the absence of a sax or oboe makes it seem less Soft Machine-esque. Luckily there's John Etheridge's distinguished guitar who is here to make the album sound alike the Soft Machine which played Bundles and Softs. The rhythm section still featuring the great John Marshall also makes it valid to still call this Soft Machine.

What actually strikes you(the most) from this album rather than the presence of Rick Sanders' violin and the total disappearance of the sax/oboe, is the studio-recorded tune called Soft Space. It's a techno-dance tune! Believe me or not, I'm listening to it right now at 2:00 am and in any moment I'm going to turn on the flashy dance-club lights and will start to dance to it! However, to be sincere it's not really good unless you're a guy who likes this type of music.

To go a bit further in the description of the album, it's your typical post-'73 Soft Machine affair in which from one song to the other it flows naturally giving that always great listening experience, despite that the material on this album is not that great as already mentioned. You got to believe me when I tell you there's not a single standout tune in here, even though there's neither a bad tune either.

2 stars: Not actually bad per se, but taking in consideration Bundles and Softs, Alive & Well is a deja-vu, every note you've already heard it previously. Recommended for die-hard fans of Bundles and Softs solely. HOWEVER, if you're not able to find either of the aforementioned albums, Alive & Well is worth checking out to listen how this line-up of Soft Machine played.

Review by Warthur
3 stars Soft Machine decided to record this one as a live album in order to save costs, the band's declining fortunes having started to bite into their budget severely. Unfortunately, the live tapes weren't of a brilliant standard, so extensive overdubs were required anyway.

Some may argue that they needn't have bothered - far from proving that the band were alive and well, the album documented a group barely interested in being Soft Machine any more, and divided as to what direction they actually want to go in. At points Karl Jenkins' synths dominate and things drift in an almost Tangerine Dream direction; at other points, as on The Nodder, the band do an passable impression of the classic Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Still, at least it doesn't have the spectacle of Mike Ratledge acting as a guest performer in his own band, and if the Harvest era of the band appeals to you then this isn't without its charms. For a good long while the easiest to find CD version of this was a lacklustre 1990 version from See For Miles, which didn't sound especially good; however, in 2010 Estoeric put out a remastered version (also included, minus bonus tracks, on their Harvest Years boxed set of Soft Machine's 1975-1978 albums) which notably improves the sound quality, and has somewhat warmed me to this release.

Latest members reviews

4 stars This underrated record is a nice entry into the late golden period fusion scene. I'd label it inconsequential but that wouldn't do it justice because the music is quite good. It's a favorite in my library primarily because it doesn't have any reeds and it's not real experimental like their ear ... (read more)

Report this review (#2077923) | Posted by WFV | Friday, November 23, 2018 | Review Permanlink

3 stars The decline continues........ Soft Machine was at the time of the recording of this album bankrupt after several failed tours in Italy where they did not get paid and had to crawl back to UK again on empty petrol tanks. The band was in disarray and the recording of the new material, the Aliv ... (read more)

Report this review (#259728) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Thursday, January 7, 2010 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Live album of SOFT MACHINE announced in 1978 "Alive&Well". SOFT MACHINE has not already stopped the prototype. Listening as another jazz-rock group might be quite more natural. The impression of the performance is jazz-rock like MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA that it is energetic and the tension is hi ... (read more)

Report this review (#49228) | Posted by braindamage | Thursday, September 29, 2005 | Review Permanlink

3 stars From 1975 to 1978 albuns, Soft Machine added an electric guitar to their sound. There are people who don't like this mix, anyway I think the result is beautiful. Some of the guitarrists added were Allan Holdsworth and John Etheridge, two masters of the strings. So, this album has a lot to offe ... (read more)

Report this review (#22110) | Posted by Melos | Monday, October 4, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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