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Canterbury Scene • United Kingdom

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The Soft Machine biography
Formed in Canterbury, UK in 1966 - Disbanded in 1984 (SM members would reconvene under several monikers along the years) - Reformed in 2015

The band started playing as such in 1966 but their first record, a single, came out in 1967.
The very last concert was in 1984 at Ronnie Scott's on July 30/31 and August 1-4.
Band members at that concert were Paul Carmichael (bass), John Etheridge, Karl Jenkins, Dave McRae (once upon a time keyboard player with Matching Mole), Ray Warleigh and John Marshall.

The name of the band is similar to the book with the same title written by William Burroughs: "The Soft Machine".
Besides this, different formations/groups tour under names as "Soft Machine Legacy" (2004-2015), "Soft Works" (2002-2004), "Soft Ware" (1999-2002), "Soft Mountain", "Soft Heap (1978-1983) and "Polysoft"

The probably most important and influential band to grow out the Canterbury Scene was SOFT MACHINE. The band emerged as the quartet of Robert WYATT (drums, vocals), Mike RATLEDGE (keyboards), Kevin AYERS (bass, vocals) and Daevid ALLEN (guitar, vocals). Through a persistence of personnel changes (totalling ~30), their sound was to changed continually over the years of their existence. This band along with CARAVAN (both to come out of the formative WILDE FLOWERS), would influence the emergence of the Canterbury Sound (MATCHING MOLE, EGG, HATFIELD & THE NORTH, and many more). Many careers began with SOFT MACHINE: Robert WYATT (MATCHING MOLE band and solo artist), Kevin AYERS (later his own WHOLE WORLD band and solo artist), and Daevid ALLEN (later GONG and solo artist). Virtuosic instrumentalists such as Hugh HOPPER, Mike RATLEDGE, Elton DEAN, Allan HOLDSWORTH, (briefly) Andy SUMMERS, Roy BABBINGTON, John MARSHALL and Karl JENKINS were attracted to MACHINE's ranks through out its history, leaving us a series of ground-breaking albums.

Now, briefly - what is the music like? The SOFT MACHINE were, for many listeners, the standard against which all jazz-rock fusion, including many of the ...
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THE SOFT MACHINE Videos (YouTube and more)

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Hidden DetailsHidden Details
Dyad 2018
Sony Music Canada Inc. 2011
$3.51 (used)
5cd Original Album Classics (Third/F Ourth/Fifth/Six/Seven)5cd Original Album Classics (Third/F Ourth/Fifth/Six/Seven)
Sony Music Canada Inc. 2011
$50.10 (used)
$18.07 (used)
BBC Radio: 1967-71BBC Radio: 1967-71
Hux Records 2003
$13.37 (used)
Volumes One & TwoVolumes One & Two
Big Beat UK 2004
$9.99 (used)
Soft Machine: Out-Bloody Rageous An Anthology 1967-1973Soft Machine: Out-Bloody Rageous An Anthology 1967-1973
Sony Music Canada Inc. 2011
$11.91 (used)
Land Of Cockayne /  Soft MachineLand Of Cockayne / Soft Machine
$10.25 (used)
Switzerland 1974Switzerland 1974
$18.25 (used)
Man in a Deaf Corner: Anthology 1963-1970Man in a Deaf Corner: Anthology 1963-1970
City Hall (Generic) 2001
$9.98 (used)
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THE SOFT MACHINE discography

Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help to complete the discography and add albums

THE SOFT MACHINE top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.03 | 509 ratings
The Soft Machine
4.07 | 451 ratings
Volume Two
4.23 | 912 ratings
3.50 | 311 ratings
3.36 | 240 ratings
Fifth [Aka: 5]
3.47 | 213 ratings
3.66 | 245 ratings
4.07 | 316 ratings
3.91 | 206 ratings
2.01 | 59 ratings
Karl Jenkins: Rubber Riff
3.01 | 127 ratings
Land Of Cockayne
3.92 | 24 ratings
Hidden Details

THE SOFT MACHINE Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

2.82 | 67 ratings
Alive & Well - Recorded in Paris
3.24 | 29 ratings
Live at the Proms (1970)
4.04 | 33 ratings
The Peel Sessions
4.28 | 20 ratings
BBC Live In Concert 1971
3.73 | 17 ratings
BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert 1972
3.91 | 35 ratings
Live At The Paradiso
3.31 | 22 ratings
Live In France (Paris)
3.69 | 38 ratings
2.77 | 17 ratings
Live 1970
4.06 | 56 ratings
3.42 | 30 ratings
1.21 | 9 ratings
4.07 | 39 ratings
BBC - Radio 1967 - 1971
4.09 | 31 ratings
BBC Radio 1971 - 1974
3.00 | 7 ratings
Somewhere In Soho
3.58 | 12 ratings
Soft Stage BBC In Concert 1972
2.00 | 1 ratings
Orange Skin Food
3.33 | 12 ratings
Breda Reactor
3.35 | 15 ratings
Soft Machine & Heavy Friends BBC In Concert 1971
3.81 | 29 ratings
British Tour '75
3.80 | 42 ratings
Floating World Live (Bremen 1975)
4.41 | 58 ratings
2.58 | 20 ratings
Middle Earth Masters
3.06 | 24 ratings
4.18 | 26 ratings
Live At Henie Onstad Art Centre
4.37 | 27 ratings
NDR Jazz Workshop, Germany, May 17, 1973
0.00 | 0 ratings
Daevid Allen & Gilli Smyth With The Soft Machine Family: Live At The Roundhouse 1971
3.96 | 9 ratings
Switzerland 1974

THE SOFT MACHINE Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

4.51 | 24 ratings
Alive in Paris-1970

THE SOFT MACHINE Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

0.00 | 0 ratings
The Soft Machine (Compilation)
3.18 | 18 ratings
Face And Place Vol. 7 (also called Jet Propelled Photographs and At The Beginning)
4.38 | 47 ratings
The Soft Machine Collection [also released as: Volumes One and Two]
3.94 | 16 ratings
Triple Echo
4.00 | 1 ratings
Rock Storia E Musica: Soft Machine
3.08 | 23 ratings
Jet Propelled Photographs
3.23 | 7 ratings
The Untouchable Collection (1975-78)
4.38 | 4 ratings
As If...
3.10 | 2 ratings
Soft Machine (Live & Demos)
3.57 | 5 ratings
The Best Of Soft Machine...The Harvest Years
3.40 | 29 ratings
Spaced (1969)
3.59 | 23 ratings
Fourth / Fifth
3.50 | 2 ratings
soft machine
1.97 | 12 ratings
Man in a Deaf Corner: Anthology 1963-1970
3.33 | 6 ratings
Turns On Vol. 1
2.20 | 6 ratings
Turns On Vol. 2
1.67 | 7 ratings
Kings Of Canterbury
3.39 | 8 ratings
4.03 | 8 ratings
Out Bloody Rageous (Anthology 67-73)
1.00 | 2 ratings
The Story of Soft Machine
3.49 | 13 ratings
Original Album Classics
0.00 | 0 ratings
Tanglewood Tails

THE SOFT MACHINE Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.07 | 8 ratings
Love Makes Sweet Music
4.00 | 4 ratings
Why Are We Sleeping?
3.40 | 5 ratings
Soft Space
2.00 | 1 ratings
Bundles (Promo Single)


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Hidden Details by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 2018
3.92 | 24 ratings

Hidden Details
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by AZF

4 stars How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Soft Machine

Never thought it would happen again but here we are. 18 years into the 21st Century and look at that! Brand new Soft Machine! Firstly, you probably already know, but this is an album best played on a stereo system as opposed to speakers on a Tablet or PC! Streamed and even on YouTube it sounds like they were recorded in a shed, while the CD sounds a lot more produced and mixed. Some parts nostalgia reviving, some parts brand new diversions. As expected the musicianship is on point. Age has not weakened the drumming of Britain's Most Overlooked Drummer John Marshall. John Etheridge still has it. And Classic Soft Machine wah pedals get dusted off and stepped on again. It is the most fun Soft Machine album for some time. True, there's no lyrical oddness like Volume Two. But there's a spirit of freedom in the playing. Nobody to be excluded (Well as !omg as they understand it's instrumental music) and no contemporaries left to challenge. It doesn't sound like the end piece. Whereas The Endless River seem to descend from the skies for a final victory lap. "Hidden Details" seems to wake from it's sleep and get off the pavement to march forward. The Soft Machine are back! And it's as if (SeewhatIdidthere?) they've never really been away. When does a band stop being a band? Soft Machine long had those accusations brushed off. I did used to be a Wyatt purist and it took me a while but I now except it all as Soft Machine. ("Rubber Riff" excepted because... Yeah...) And while other modern albums by Prog bands have felt like the curtain is closing, "Hidden Details" sounds like a band woken up from a hibernation. New Zookeeper, Theo Travis, has nurtured these endangered mammoths of UK music and at the end of it you'll be begging for more. A final collaboration with Robert Wyatt seems like an impossible dream. But then if you were told in 2018 Soft Machine would be back with an album just as good as their mid-70's prime? Well who would believe that!

"Hidden Details" doesn't let the side down. If any criticism I would have preferred less reworkings of Machine standards. There's enough confidence in this album to show there's still enough life left in the band. A pleasant listening experience guaranteed.

 Hidden Details by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 2018
3.92 | 24 ratings

Hidden Details
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars The name SOFT MACHINE evokes god status in progressive rock circles, a band so far ahead of their time that they not only were one of the key pioneers in launching the entire progressive rock universe way back in the mid-60s, but singlehandedly created the jazz-fusion niche world which would finally be penned the Canterbury Scene. The band has been somewhat of a spawning ground for some of the jazz-rock world's most gifted musicians as well as having been a nursery ground for countless other bands to have split off from. For one to trace the family tree of this productive rotating collective over the decades is tantamount to rocket science physics equations with band members leaving, returning and new ones continuously adding new idiosyncrasies. The band can claim nearly thirty musicians in all who have come and gone with a whole bunch of related bands when you take the extended close relatives into consideration.

Just check out this impressive list of SOFT MACHINE spinoffs: 2nd Vision, Adiemus, Daevid Allen Trio, Bluesology, Brainville, Centipede, Command All Stars, Elton Dean's Ninesense, The Dedication Orchestra, Gilgamesh, Gong, In Cahoots, Isotope, Matching Mole, Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, Nucleus, Pip Pyle's Equip'Out, Polysoft, Short Wave, Soft Bounds, Soft Head, Soft Heap, Soft Machine Legacy, Soft Mountain, Soft Works, Symbiosis, Keith Tippett Tapestry Orchestraa, which of course along with Canterbury's other pioneers emerged in the big bang of the entire scene in the nascent proto-prog efforts ofThe Wilde Flowers. And while it may be hard to believe that this band that released their debut all the way back in 1968 is still finding new life, lo and behold an entirely new version of SOFT MACHINE has appeared with their 2018 release HIDDEN DETAILS which emerges 37 years after the last studio album "Land Of Cockayne" and a whopping half century after they forever changed the musical landscape with their eponymously titled psychedelic pop classic debut.

With a release under the original moniker, one would expect this to be an announcement of sorts of some type of reunion album that finds the original members of the classic period getting back together to reclaim their jazzy rock ingenuity of the past. Of course, i'm not really sure if a "classic" lineup has actually ever been established with this band since it seems like every album, studio and live, sports a different lineup as musicians flowed through the band like a never-ending river however personally i would assume that it would include any of the members from the debut to the "Third" era. To assume this, however, you would be mistaken indeed, for the SOFT MACHINE of 2018 is a completely different beast altogether. Well, let me rephrase that, an old beast shedding a part of its moniker to usurp the throne of the progenitors of the original band. Not exactly what i was expecting, however the results aren't nearly as disastrous i had feared. Not by a long shot.

HIDDEN DETAILS, in actuality, is an extension of the related group Soft Machine Legacy which was formed in 2004 as a new variant of yet another related band called Soft Works. This newly coined band in the greater SOFT MACHINE family emerged when guitarist John Etheridge replaced the late great Allan Holdsworth and then released three albums in the forms of the self-titled debut (2006), "Steam" (2007) and "Burden Of Proof" in 2013. Out of the original Softies, only Hugh Hopper was involved on the first two albums before being replaced by Roy Babbington (another 70s member), otherwise the rest of the group consisted of Etheridge on guitars, Theo Travis on sax, flute and Fender Rhodes piano and John Marshall on drums. While not the classic early years, Marshall played drums on "Fifth" and stuck around throughout the rest of the 70s and 80s as did Babbington.

Are you thoroughly confused yet? Well, i am! Just to relay the details of exactly what happened for this new album to come about, the band announced in 2015 that they would tour with the "Legacy" part being dropped out of their name and Soft Machine Legacy minus the Legacy is simply SOFT MACHINE, so in effect HIDDEN DETAILS is R-E-A-L-L-Y, technically speaking, the fourth Soft Machine Legacy album in disguise, JUST to make things in this Canterbury universe even M-O-R-E confusing. And you thought it was only the music that was complex? Well, the proof is in the pudding that absolutely nothing is easy to figure out in this slice of jazz-rock infused world. LOL! Enough of all that! How's the friggin' music you wonder. In short, very good! In fact, so much better than i ever could've hoped for.

Whether you like the name change or not, these guys somehow manage to harness that ineffable SOFT MACHINE sound from the past and embark on a modern day fusionist journey that breathes new life into a rather infertile nook of the progressive rock universe, all the while keeping it firmly grounded in the the contemporary world that animates new creativity into a classic sound all the while brandishing a slick modern production job. Right from the hard hitting opening title track, this quartet elegantly captures the classic SOFT MACHINE zeitgeist with crazily laid out time signatures, heavy sax, bass and drum action as well as a rock guitar sound that the early Softies eschewed. Theo Travis proves to be a veritable brass blower as his technically infused playing reminds of the greats such as Elton Dean's best performances only in a more streamlined and controlled manner.

While these guys, who are well into their 70s i believe, crank out the title track as effortlessly as they would've decades ago, it's not just the technical workouts that bedazzle the listener on HIDDEN DETAILS. The secret sauce is in the veritable smorgasbord variety of the tracks which even include the unthinkable reworkings of "The Man Waved At Trains" (from "Bundles") and "Out Bloody Rageous" (from "Third) which prove that this current SOFT MACHINE lineup was quite confident with their abilities to carry the torch by taking that last leap of faith and dropping the "Legacy" ending of their band name. The former track is a flute rich jazzified slow rocker that triumphantly engages in all the expected jazzy timings and sweet sensuality of a flute based melodic drive. While the latter captures the expected "Third" era warmth but adds a much silkier and smooth spaced out version that takes some of the aggressive drive out of the original. While being faithful to the original in spirit, these modern day renditions are quite an achievement.

Perhaps the greatest triumphs of HIDDEN DETAILS comes from the more complex atmospheric pieces such as the the title track and the angular avant-garde motifs of "Ground Lift" and "Flight Of The Jett" which exude a greater sum of the parts that takes you into an entirely different realm where the sound stabs paint a pointillistic reality on the other side of perception. Masterfully executed and uniquely interwoven into the overall fabric of the album. On the other side of the spectrum lies the immediately more catchy and perceptible melodic (in jazz fashion) tracks such as "Broken Hill" and "Fourteen Hour Dream," the latter of which has a downright danceable groovy bass riff that is accompanied by a soul massaging flute performance. As the album ends with the ambient "Breathe," i take this as breathing a sigh of relief as i just listened to an album that i loved despite having every fear that it would be some irrelevant retreading of the past with nothing but recycled bits regurgitated in a nauseating disrespectful fashion. Wow. I couldn't have been more mistaken.

Progressive rock is a persistent beast and while bands like SOFT MACHINE have never been the most commercially successful, their musical maturity has earned them a high place in the greater rock universe in terms of respect and durability. While the classic combo of musicians like Mike Rutledge, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers and Hugh Hopper may only be distant memories for long time prog lovers and mere encyclopedic entries for those of us who weren't around to experience the initial lineups of the great SOFT MACHINE classics, it's reassuring to know that a bunch of stalwart virtuosos of this magnitude are keeping the Canterbury torch burning. HIDDEN DETAILS is a testament to not only to the SOFT MACHINE "Legacy" but to the entire Canterbury Scene actually. While this one will not usurp the throne of classics like "Third" as top dogs in my world, this one does inspire me to fill the gap and investigate all of the other spinoff bands that the members on this album have played in. This was, indeed, one of the greatest surprises of 2018!

 Karl Jenkins: Rubber Riff by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1976
2.01 | 59 ratings

Karl Jenkins: Rubber Riff
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by WFV

3 stars It's inevitable this album is trashed on a prog site. Progressive rock was never made to be incidental music - the foundation of the earliest progressive rock was making a loud, landscape altering sweeping statement. Therefore, this made for background "library music" doesn't really fit the billing.

If approached with open ears, this can be a worthwhile experience for sure if used for its intended purpose. There's some riffs and some floating, and after I put this on while I'm stretching or making a salad I'm in a good mood.

I don't think the appeal would be as strong for me if this was labeled a Karl Jenkins solo record. He's magnificently talented but always seemed like an interloper and I don't much care for his solo records I've tried.

I really like the tunes "A Little Floating Music" and "Splot". "Melina" is a low point, and "Gentle Turn" isn't far behind - both sound like weak theme songs to a poor 1970's US television sitcom.

Two stars for the prog recommendation, four stars in my catalogue, three it is overall. I feel exactly the same about this album as I do similar albums on here "Codename Wildgeese" by Eloy, "Blitz" by Thirsty Moon and "Visa" by Duncan Mackay good activity music and mild instrumental prog curiosities.

 Third by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.23 | 912 ratings

The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Eric_T

5 stars This is one of my all-time top five albums and certainly my favourite "Prog" item. It consists of four side-long pieces (on the original vinyl) which are each in a distinctive style but share the basic structural approach of having striking melodic themes linked by passages of improvisation. "Facelift" is brash and powerful, driven along by Hopper's springy bass lines and Wyatt's chopping drums. Mike Ratledge's first solo is his most exciting on the album. "Slightly All The Time" is more contemplative and features Elton Dean at his most lyrical. "Moon In June" is a Wyatt masterpiece which many feel is worth the price of the album on its own. "Out Bloody Rageous" is the most overtly jazz-oriented piece and also (in shortened form) served as my introduction to the Soft Machine when included on a 1970 CBS sampler.

This is an album that simply could not have been made now. It comes from a time when groups were allowed to record adventurous music. I am grateful to have been around to pick up on it. There's not a weak passage on the album - 5 stars for sure.

 Fourth by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1971
3.50 | 311 ratings

The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars Although they had only formed a mere five years prior from the ashes of the Wilde Flowers, THE SOFT MACHINE had transmogrified from a beat inspired 60s psychedelic pop and proto-prog entity into a fully fledged jazz-fusion behemoth after adding Elton Dean to the roster for their epic 1970 double length album "Third" which found the trio turned quartet not only dropping the definite article "THE" from their moniker but also found the role of founding member Robert Wyatt's input quickly diminishing from the overall scenario. On the first two SOFT MACHINE albums, Wyatt's role was the main feature with his unmistakably unique vocals showcasing the music but with the addition of Dean along with an additional cast of guest musicians mostly out of the jazz circuits, Wyatt found himself ever more estranged from the creative direction that his fellow band mates were conjuring up around him and by the time "Third" came out he had to fight tooth and nail just to get the one vocal song to be sandwiched into the jazzy skronk wonderland of all things free form jazz surging with psychedelic overtones.

On the logically yet uncreatively titled 4 (pronounced FOURTH), the SOFTS had all but jettisoned their Canterbury influences and psychedelic vocal whimsy in favor of an all out instrumental jazz-fusion attack set on sizzling with Elton Dean casting his weight based off his recent solo album "Just Us" of the same year. The result is the beginning of the classic jazz-fusion era of SOFT MACHINE and on FOURTH they followed Dean's lead who developed his fierce alto sax and saxello playing skills in his days with Keith Tippett. While the avant-garde Ornette Coleman styled free-for-all sax solos whizzing around at light speed play a central part of the overall sound of FOURTH, the psychedelic 60s hadn't been totally erased from memory as Mike Ratledge finds the perfect way to engage his complementary Lowrey organ and Hohner piano riffs into the jazz-rock paradigm that hearken back to the swinging 60s so close yet so suddenly so very far away. Likewise Hugh Hopper's grounding and stabilizing bass lines rein in the loose-wire horn sections augmented by Dean's frenetic sax attacks along with guest musicians Mark Charig (cornet player also of Keith Tippett fame), Nick Evans (trombonist of Keith Tippett fame), Jimmy Hastings (alto flute / bass clarinet of Caravan) and Alan Skidmore (tenor sax also of Keith Tippett fame).

The result of the heft of this brass heavy congregation steered the SOFT MACHINE sound into extreme avant-garde jazz-rock fusion territory which even added yet one more guest musician: Roy Babbington of Delivery to contribute his double bass. The tracks run the gamut of chilled to frenetic. The moderately improvised nine minute opening track "Teeth" takes influences ranging from the bop fueled epics of John Coltrane to the fuzzed out surrealism of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" era. The track exhibits the perfect compromise between the structured hard bop chord patterns and sophisticated harmonic idioms with the unstructured improvisational soloing of Dean's hyperactive sax runs. "Kings And Queens" offers a completely chilled out contrast, a bass groove dominated Hopper contribution in between the more frenetic constructs created by Ratledge and Dean.

"Fletcher's Blemish" on the other hand is a Dean written piece that takes the free form avant-garde schizoid madness of crazed masters such as Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor and channels their unhinged tendencies through a flurry of tortured jagged sax attacks in a style that is directly lifted from Dean's solo debut. On the original album the second side of FOURTH was completely consumed by the four part suite "Virtually" which are treated as separate tracks but thematically connected and constructed out of a more collective approach of various extended themes that keep enough structure in the mix to allow individual members to go off on musical tangents all the while finding the perfect tension between composition and improvisation although like most of the running time of FOURTH, Dean does seem to get more than the lion's share of soloing time.

While utterly musically ostracized in the very band he helped create, Robert Wyatt may be silent and sitting in the back corner like a castigated child misbehaving on the playground but he is in fact on the album and it would be his last one with SOFT MACHINE before permanently solidifying his newly found Matching Mole (which as is commonly known a parody of SOFT MACHINE from the French translation "Machine molle.") However despite any demotion in creative input to the band's musical selections, Wyatt performs like a pro easily pounding out the heavy duty hardcore jazz drumming skills required of a seasoned veteran to handle when playing in a jazz-fusion ensemble of such magnitude and while he may have suffered a terrible accident which would rob him of his talents, on FOURTH his talents are eked out in a most satisfying way as he effortlessly and impeccably morphs his stylistic approach between the fuzzy psychedelic Gong inspired brume into the punishing freneticism of Dean's sax abuse segments in full hard bop mode.

SOFT MACHINE's FOURTH has been chastised and kicked around since it was released and to this very day remains substantially less revered than its predecessors as well as later releases with some even calling it the absolute nadir of the SOFT's vast and overarching career and i for one am quite disconcerted with how Wyatt's bandmates treated him and subjugated him to the role of a circus chimp who merely went through the motions of what he was told to perform, however at the same time i'm rating the music itself and as a lover of free form jazz and all things musically extreme, i have to fall on the side of loving this one with the caveat of agreeing with the almost universal consensus that it is indeed a step down from the SOFT's first three classics. One of the problems results of course from the obvious overreach of Elton Dean's influence which affects Ratledge's ability to stand out for much of the album despite his warm and inviting key runs filling every nook, cranny and cadence. Taken as a representative album of the Canterbury Scene, this one will surely disappoint but if accepted as a unique slice of early 70s jazz-fusion that happens to have a little of what came before in the mix with an emphasis on free form improv passages, then i have to say that this album easily achieves the "excellent" seal of approval.

 Orange Skin Food by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Live, 2005
2.00 | 1 ratings

Orange Skin Food
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

— First review of this album —
2 stars This is a collection of bootleg recordings that in 2005 received official release on a German label. There are actually 4 different live performances on this recording, each with a different sound quality. Frustratingly there is NO information about the dates or band membership or anything included with the CD. However, I can tell by listening that all of these involve the classic fourth-era quartet of Wyatt (drums, voice), Ratledge (organ, e-piano), Hopper (basses), and Dean (sax, saxello), and so these recordings must date from 1970-1971. The four separate performances span across the two CDs, and not necessarily in order (whey they did this? well there is no information). While the sound quality is mostly poor, clearly all recorded on household cassette machines, but not as bad as other boots I own. Also, the label did a decent job applying modern software technology to cleaning up the tape hiss, and some of the performances are quite notable, so this is definitely not a one-star set. The main frustration is that a number of songs fade in or out (in three of the four shows), so you don't always get the whole song. Here is what I have come up with, based on the differences in sound quality, and what I think about each:

Performance 1: CD1, Track1: Slightly All the Time CD1, Track 2: Out-Bloody-Rageous CD1, Track 4: Mousetrap CD1, Track 5: Noisette CD1, Track 6: Backwards CD1, Track 7: Mousetrap (rep) CD1, Track 8: Hibou, Anemome and Bear CD2, Track 9: Eamon Andrews

This is all in mono, with only OK sound quality. Some very good playing, and an interesting transition between Slightly all the Time and Out-Bloody-Rageous which is worth hearing by mega-fans. Also, the long version of Eamon Andrews is worth it (unfortunately, they fade out Hibou just when a solo is beginning, though).

Performance 2: CD1, Track 10: Esther's Nose Job CD1, Track 11: Pigling Bland CD2, Track 1: Facelift CD2, Track 2: Moon in June

These are very good performances, but annoying fade in and out. Facelift is missing both its beginning (so, no organ solo:( and its end, and Moon in June fades out just after the main loud solo. I would have loved to have the whole peformances here, as it seems the band was really 'on' that night. But sound quality if poorer than P1, and in mono.

Performance 3: CD2, Track 3: Out-Bloody-Rageous CD2, Track 4: Facelift CD2, Track 5: Fire Engine Passing CD2, Track 6: Pig CD2, Track 7: Orange Skin Food CD2, Track 8: A Door Opens and Closes CD2, Track 9: 10:30 Returns to the Bedroom CD2, Track 10: Pigling Bland CD2, Track 11: 10:30 Returns to the Bedroom (rep)

This is the performance with the best sound quality - very good (for a bootleg), and in stereo, comparable to a number of the other official releases. Thankfully, there are no fade-outs so you get the entire performance here. The Esthers Nose Job set is great. The band is tight, although the soloing is generally short (only a very short fuzz-organ solo at the beginning of Facelift, unfortunately). The final track in the set (the reprise of "Returns to the Bedroom") is a notable for short Wyatt echo-voice and echo-drum solos and a few other crazy sounds. Those who don't like bootleg-quality sound will probably only want to listen to this set.

Performance 4: CD1, Track 3: Moon in June CD2, Track 12: I should have Known

This is the recording/performance with worst sound quality, mono, with still-audible tape hiss, and obviously from a tape that had seen better days. The performance of "I should have Known", nonetheless, is notable. It fades in, so you might not even recognize the song. Wyatt sings it very slowly, without all the usual rhythm or chord changes, and there is a drum solo through an echo unit, much longer than the one in the third performance.

The performances here are good, and the sound quality is decent on performance 3, so this does not deserve only 1 star. Saying this, it is likely to appeal only to those (like me) who can't get enough of live Third/Fourth-era Soft Machine recordings. So two PA stars.

 The Peel Sessions by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Live, 1990
4.04 | 33 ratings

The Peel Sessions
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

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.

 Six by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.47 | 213 ratings

The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

2 stars The first truly boring Soft Machine album.

There are actually two albums here, a live album and a studio album. Karl Jenkins had taken on the lead role, and Mike Ratledge, while still an official member and playing great solos, starting to recede from view. The live album is actually relatively decent, although much of the music is now being written by Jenkins and is not nearly on the same level as the earlier Softs albums (even Fifth). However, the studio album here lacks any sort of energy, even of the experimental, avant-garde or free-jazz kind. I really like long drawn-out avant-garde jazz experiments, including a lot of Hugh Hopper's drones (I even like the experimental sides of the Centipede Septober Energy album), but the studio album here is simply boring. It does not help that John Marshall's drumming is so straight. He sounds completely bored himself! (but for some reason unwilling to liven things up). On balance, I give this album 4.6 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 2 PA stars. Really, only the live album is worth a listen.

 Fifth [Aka: 5] by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.36 | 240 ratings

Fifth [Aka: 5]
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

3 stars A flawed gem

Although it continues with much the same types of compositions as on Fourth, this is the first album without Robert Wyatt on drums and this is its Achilles heel. I actually really like the album, and have played it a ton of times over many years. I disagree with those who say it is boring noodling, as I think it is quite inventive - the first I know of that created a new sound by doubling the electric piano using a delay pedal. The compositions are great, and there are great distorted organ, fuzz bass, and sax/saxello solos. However, unfortunately, the drumming does not pull its weight. The first side, which features Phil Howard on drums is the (much) better of the two. Howard plays in a similar style as Wyatt on Fourth, albeit even more free (and thus less tied to any tempo). So, while not nearly as good as it would have been with Wyatt, side 1 is generally listenable. However, side 2 is painful. John Marshall is on drums here (Howard was fired before he could record on side 2), and he plays these songs very straight, very little improvisation, completely precise and very sparse. The contrast with Howard is stark. While Marshall would come into his own on later Soft Machine albums where they went full Mahavishnu-style Jazz Fusion and do very well (e.g. Bundles), on this album he simply does not fit the music. You can hear the problem right away if you compare the version of "As If" (the long song that opens side 2) here to the version on the Peel Sessions which features Phil Howard. The Peel Sessions version is vital, organic, full of life, pulling you along, albeit a bit temporally-challenged, while the version with Marshall is drab, dull, dead. It is really too bad Wyatt didn't drum on this album - it would have (likely) brought this up to or above the level of Fourth and given these recordings the vitality they deserve. I still love the rest of the playing, and the compositions - to my mind these pieces are better than most of what the Softs would produce afterward (particularly Sixth, but even the jazz fusion albums after that). This is innovative music. However, issues within the band meant they couldn't see how to make best use of these compositional gems, and ended up with some sub-par drumming/recordings. Saying this, "All White" is much better here than on the live album on Sixth, "Drop" is a classic Softs composition, up there with their best, and "As If" is also a fantastic composition (but the Peel Sessions album has the best version of that). On balance, I give this 6.1 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 3 PA stars.

 Third by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.23 | 912 ratings

The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Walkscore

5 stars This album is particularly special. Indeed, for me it ranks up there in the top 10-12 albums of all time. Thinking about it, its greatness should have been unlikely. The members were starting to get along less well. While Ratledge and Hopper wanted to move toward more mathematically-precise jazz-rock fusion, Wyatt remained passionate and untroubled by imperfections. They didn't like his singing, and so wrote complex instrumentals and brought in additional members temporarily to play the main lines, although they allowed him one side for his now-iconic Moon in June. The album was actually quite transitional, in between their psycheadelic first two albums and their later jazz/jazz-fusion albums. This is the only one to feature so many horn players, and they fairly quickly changed their sound on subsequent albums. The sound quality is pretty terrible, particularly for a studio album but the live side recording is equally muddy (Facelift). The music is mostly obtuse and should have been completely innacessible to most listeners, with one long (20 minute) piece on each side, creating a double album of only four songs. It begins with roughly four minutes of the most (to mainstream listeners) off-putting screeching distorted organ solo (but not recognizable as an organ, it is so crazy). It is a wonder that any record label put this out. It was likely mistakenly overlooked by CBC-Columbia's marketing department, or it is because it snuck in during that wonderful short period in the late 60s when record company execs had no clue what would sell and what wouldn't.

Thankfully it was released. The music is unlike virtually anything that would come before or after. It is not typical jazz fusion, although it shares *some* similarities with the free jazz being played by Miles and Weather Report around this time. Even though, like those bands, Third has a lot of improvisation, it also has a lot of complex tight brass lines in strange time signatures/phrasing, but which are very musical, with very difficult-to-play drumming (while Miles and others had great drummers mostly just jamming). The complex lines are particularly exemplary of Mike Ratledge's two pieces, which are very odd in that they are so difficult and angular, yet they are so strong they remain in one's head (I find myself humming them to myself, like my grandmother used to do with her 1940s-era radio clips). While Soft Machine would pursue a similar composition style on Fourth, only Teeth on that album comes close to the magic of this one. Perhaps the best known song on this album is Robert Wyatt's amazing Moon in June. While many others prefer the BBC Top Gear Peel Sessions version with the different lyrics, I prefer this one, for two reason: the amazing extended organ and bass soloing that goes well beyond any of the live versions (including the TG Peel version), and the section at the end of the song, in which Wyatt extends the piece with tape loops, odd violin lines and music concrete. A wonderful piece, and probably the most iconic Canterbury-style song ever. However, while I love Moon in June to death, perhaps my favourite few minutes on this album are the first ones with Ratledge's highly distorted feeding-back organ solo. It is paradigm-destroying. While others before and since have recorded highly dissonant sections of music, often to make a statement, they are usually there because they are NOT musical. But this one is SO musical, and feeds perfectly into the rest of the song (Facelift). It immediately marks the album as something new, out-there, wild, politically challenging. This is not normal jazz, not rock. Indeed, it has both a punk feel (like an in-your-face protest against mainstream music, or something) AND a jazz feel (like a great Coltrane solo). It works very well as music, while being somehow soul-enriching (sometimes when I am feeling down or had a bad day, I put this on and crank it, and always feel better). Then, right when it is craziest, the organ calms down to some beautiful but tense and tentative chords, signalling Hopper to come in with his fuzz-bass line which then leads to the main themes of the song. It works wonderfully.

This is one of the albums that has made up my life soundtrack. I still listen to it (even after >1000 listens), and still can't seem to get enough of live material from this era of SM. Speaking of progressive or experimental music in general, some music seems kindof weird the first time you listen to it, and never attains the status of 'music'. Some music only improves a bit with subsequent listens. Some music that you really like at first (or third) listen, but it gets boring by the 10th, or 100th listen. This album SHOULD have been one of those kinds of albums - I am sure some find it long and tedious. Some other SM albums fit that category. But this one sounds so musical each time I hear it. It is unique, soul-enriching. I give it 9.7 out of 10 on my 10-piont scale (not quite 10, due to poor sound quality, and the bass is mixed way too loud on Slightly All the Time).

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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