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THE SOFT MACHINE

Canterbury Scene • United Kingdom


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

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 t...
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THE SOFT MACHINE discography


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

3.96 | 670 ratings
The Soft Machine
1968
4.03 | 609 ratings
Volume Two
1969
4.20 | 1167 ratings
Third
1970
3.58 | 426 ratings
Fourth
1971
3.44 | 324 ratings
Fifth [Aka: 5]
1972
3.54 | 287 ratings
Six
1973
3.61 | 325 ratings
Seven
1973
4.12 | 485 ratings
Bundles
1975
3.94 | 302 ratings
Softs
1976
2.08 | 86 ratings
Karl Jenkins: Rubber Riff
1976
3.01 | 177 ratings
Land of Cockayne
1981
3.89 | 236 ratings
Hidden Details
2018
3.71 | 44 ratings
Other Doors
2023

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

3.02 | 96 ratings
Alive & Well - Recorded in Paris
1978
3.29 | 41 ratings
Live at the Proms (1970)
1988
4.05 | 45 ratings
The Peel Sessions
1990
4.40 | 26 ratings
BBC Live in Concert 1971
1993
3.74 | 22 ratings
BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert 1972
1994
3.60 | 45 ratings
Live At The Paradiso
1995
3.30 | 28 ratings
Live In France (Paris)
1995
3.76 | 47 ratings
Virtually
1998
2.37 | 23 ratings
Live 1970
1998
4.05 | 69 ratings
Noisette
2000
3.45 | 38 ratings
Backwards
2002
1.29 | 15 ratings
Facelift
2002
4.09 | 45 ratings
BBC - Radio 1967 - 1971
2003
4.09 | 37 ratings
BBC Radio 1971 - 1974
2003
2.80 | 10 ratings
Somewhere In Soho
2004
3.86 | 17 ratings
Soft Stage BBC In Concert 1972
2005
2.17 | 3 ratings
Orange Skin Food
2005
3.23 | 17 ratings
Breda Reactor
2005
3.49 | 18 ratings
Soft Machine & Heavy Friends BBC In Concert 1971
2005
3.84 | 35 ratings
British Tour '75
2005
3.84 | 54 ratings
Floating World Live (Bremen 1975)
2006
4.41 | 68 ratings
Grides
2006
2.63 | 26 ratings
Middle Earth Masters
2006
3.09 | 30 ratings
Drop
2008
4.14 | 31 ratings
Live At Henie Onstad Art Centre
2009
4.48 | 35 ratings
NDR Jazz Workshop, Germany, May 17, 1973
2010
3.00 | 2 ratings
Daevid Allen & Gilli Smyth With The Soft Machine Family: Live At The Roundhouse 1971
2012
4.09 | 20 ratings
Switzerland 1974
2015
4.43 | 27 ratings
Live at The Baked Potato
2020
4.26 | 8 ratings
Facelift France & Holland
2022
4.08 | 13 ratings
The Dutch Lesson
2023
5.00 | 3 ratings
H​​vikodden 1971
2024

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

4.49 | 33 ratings
Alive in Paris-1970
2008

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

4.67 | 3 ratings
The Soft Machine (Compilation)
1970
3.19 | 22 ratings
Face and Place Vol. 7 [Aka: Jet Propelled Photographs, Aka: At the Beginning]
1972
4.38 | 54 ratings
The Soft Machine Collection [also released as: Volumes One and Two]
1973
3.95 | 19 ratings
Triple Echo
1977
4.00 | 3 ratings
Rock Storia E Musica: Soft Machine
1983
3.08 | 30 ratings
Jet Propelled Photographs
1989
3.28 | 10 ratings
The Untouchable Collection (1975-78)
1990
4.29 | 6 ratings
As If...
1991
3.16 | 6 ratings
Soft Machine (Live & Demos)
1994
3.67 | 9 ratings
The Best Of Soft Machine...The Harvest Years
1995
3.34 | 34 ratings
Spaced (1969)
1996
3.60 | 29 ratings
Fourth / Fifth
1999
3.20 | 5 ratings
soft machine
2000
2.07 | 17 ratings
Man in a Deaf Corner: Anthology 1963-1970
2001
3.00 | 10 ratings
Turns On Vol. 1
2001
2.14 | 9 ratings
Turns On Vol. 2
2001
1.70 | 9 ratings
Kings Of Canterbury
2003
3.40 | 12 ratings
Six/Seven
2004
4.04 | 10 ratings
Out Bloody Rageous (Anthology 67-73)
2005
1.14 | 5 ratings
The Story of Soft Machine
2005
4.00 | 19 ratings
Original Album Classics
2010
4.00 | 2 ratings
Tales of Taliesin (The EMI Years Anthology 1975-1981)
2010
3.00 | 3 ratings
Tanglewood Tails
2014
4.00 | 4 ratings
The Harvest Albums 1975-1978
2019

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

3.03 | 12 ratings
Love Makes Sweet Music
1968
3.88 | 8 ratings
Why Are We Sleeping?
1968
4.67 | 3 ratings
Teeth
1971
5.00 | 2 ratings
Extracts from Bundles
1975
3.80 | 10 ratings
Soft Space
1978
3.60 | 5 ratings
Bundles (Promo Single)
2010
3.33 | 3 ratings
Over 'n' Above (Promo Single)
2010

THE SOFT MACHINE Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Third by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.20 | 1167 ratings

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Third
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by YPR73

5 stars As the name implies, Third was the the third and arguably best album by Canterbury Scene band Soft Machine. Third came out in 1970, and was later reissued in 2007. It was influenced a lot more by jazz and arguably experimental music than its other albums, while still retaining the influence from Canterbury Scene in small sections. This album was the first to feature Elton Dean on Alto Saxophone, and the lineup of Volume Two (Mike Ratledge, Hugh Hopper, and Robert Wyatt) appears on this album.

Now for the track listing, it is composed of four side long suites. The album opens with Facelift, which is probably the most experimental song on the album with Mike Ratledge doing a weird yet interesting solo in the opening, it then moves into a more jazzy melody. The next song on the album, Slightly All the Time, takes the whole jazz concept to a whole new level. Most of the song is pure jazz, with a much more laid back sound than Facelift. The next song, and the only song with vocals, is Moon In June. This song brings back more influences from Canterbury Scene while still retaining the jazz sound of the previous songs. It's my personal favorite song on the album, but all the songs on this are great. The final song on the album is Out-Bloody Rageous. It has a soft quiet opening in the beginning before going into another jazz section and ending with a reprise of the beginning at the end. For me it's the weakest song on the album, but like I said before every song on Third is great.

All in all it's a 5/5. I know the audio quality isn't great, but the songs themselves make up for it. It's my personal favorite album in the Canterbury Scene genre and is must listen for all prog and enjoyers. From its unique laid back jazz sound to its more electronic and loud experimentation, Third has always been a pleasure from the many times I've listened to it. I would definitely recommend!

 Seven by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.61 | 325 ratings

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Seven
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by siLLy puPPy
Special Collaborator PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic

3 stars By 1973, a mere five years after the psychedelic Canterbury jazz-rock debut of the legendary SOFT MACHINE was released in 1968, the band seemed to be like a runaway train with a mad frenzy of lineup changes, stylistic shifts and a pellmell relentlessness to constantly pursue a completely different avenue of musical expression. The band that began with the likes of Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers and Mike Ratledge was a completely unrecognizable musical force that would be united in name only. While the departure of Ayers would pave the way towards a headier approach into the world of avant-garde jazz based progressive rock, the departure of Robert Wyatt in 1971 marked a decisively new direction that would find SOFT MACHINE becoming a refugee camp of former Nucleus members.

After a consistent flow of albums that showcased a new version of the band on every single release, SOFT MACHINE engaged in its busiest year yet by releasing not one but two albums including the double vinyl set "Six" in early 1973. The album was followed by yet another series of changes which found bassist and key member Hugh Hopper leaving the band in order to forge a solo career which left a vacancy that was filled by yet another former Nucleus member Roy Babbington who had just participated with Ian Carr on the "Labyrinth" album earlier in the year. With SOFT MACHINE now half Nucleus members and down to one founding member, the dynamics made a dramatic shift once again on the band's second LP of 1973, simple titled SEVEN, the last of the ho-hum number based album titles.

With Ratledge taking a backseat to Karl Jenkins who had become the band's main composer and bandleader, SOFT MACHINE suffered significantly from the loss of the members who brought a fiery passion and sense of experimental pursuit to the band's output from "Third" through "Fifth." While "Six" garnered enough steam to sustain a double album's worth of material that remained engaging and stimulating enough to warrant a worthy chapter of the SOFT MACHINE canon, SEVEN on the other hand found itself on a dreamy sort of simmer mode where monotonous grooves and lackluster soloing resorted to a sort of default setting. Gone were the crafty jazz excursions into the avant-garde that Elton Dean brought to the table and with Ratledge ceding his authority as band leader, under the direction of Jenkins the SOFT MACHINE experiment ceased to be engaging on SEVEN.

The album starts out fiery enough with the feisty "Nettle Bed" insinuating a more energetic rock based jazz-fusion that eschewed the brash experimental approach that fortified the previous three albums with a senses of purpose however beginning with the second track "Carol Ann" the band tones things down significantly with lackadaisical bass grooves, sleepy keyboard accompaniments that fell from that classic Canterbury grace and some of the laziest percussion performances on any SOFT MACHINE album. The tracks pretty much run together seamlessly with questionable 32 second tracks such "Bone Air" that really serve no purpose other than to bridge a small gap between the two tracks that bookend it. While the band members do their best to spice things up with time signature extravaganzas and various instrumental soloing bits, the entire album comes across as a musical team that had exhausted itself by its relentless pursuit of the next big thing and a touring schedule that obviously robbed the members of their vitality.

Overall SEVEN is an okay listening experience as no SOFT MACHINE album was ever truly horrible. Although it sounds like a soft jazz lite version of the band in comparison to the innovative albums that came before, there are still moments of interest that keep the album from falling completely on its face however in the end the album just lacks any sort of fiery passion that forced SOFT MACHINE to take its constant pursuit for new experimental touches that continued to propel the band into its continuous pursuit of progression. SEVEN by far is my least favorite album of the classic SOFT MACHINE years and it would do the band well to take some much needed time to rejuvenate before they would emerge two years later with the much more innovative and fiery "Bundles" which would see a reinvigorated band welcome the guitar playing skills of Allan Holdsworth to the mix. The definitive nadir of the classic run of albums from the debut to 1976's "Softs" IMHO.

 BBC Live in Concert 1971 by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Live, 1993
4.40 | 26 ratings

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BBC Live in Concert 1971
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Nickmannion

5 stars I hoovered up all, well nearly all, the BBC/Windsong live archive releases in the mid 90's as they mostly fell in to the wider prog/rock category we all know and love. Imagine my disappointment when I got my copy home, the CD itself printed with the Soft Machine track list and info....and finding it was Frankie Millar and his band! On returning it to HMV, I had to wait another month for a replacement so anticipation was high.

I don't have a favourite Softs period. I appreciate the first 2 psych soaked efforts and the latter full on jazz rock of Bundles but the 3 albums and live releases with Elton Dean in the band , if pushed, would be the ones that came to the desert island with me. This isn't due to Dean himself as such but it is a fairly big part of it. As an aside Dean was in Long John Baldrys blues/soul/rock band and the keyboard player was one Reg Dwight who said he took his future stage name from Baldry and Dean. You have all heard of Long Dean Baldry yes?

So what have we here? I would suggest Softs and their live peak. A bigger wind section than usual so the freewheeling improv of Ratledge and Hopper had to follow the dots a bit more. Wyatt is sublime, but he always was/is. Their set list was as unpredictable as always with a part of Out Bloody Rageous from 3rd a few selections from 4th and an outing for stuff such as Pigling Bland from the not yet released 5th. They also include Deans Neo Caliban Grides from his '71 solo album Just Us...or the long lost Soft Machine album if you prefer. Trust me, find a copy. The band err 'rocks' if that is possible for a jazz/rock freejazz related infused complex set. The two longer tracks allow the band to stretch out but nothing fall short of excellence. I am just surprised they didn't introduce Neo Caliban Grides with 'here's one to stroke your beards to'...

Apart from 3rd, this is my most played Soft Machine album although I confess i don't have at least half of the retro live output. I would recommend it ...along with Elton Deans Just us....to any/everyone.

 H​​vikodden 1971 by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Live, 2024
5.00 | 3 ratings

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H​​vikodden 1971
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

5 stars There are very few bands who have impacted the progressive scene like (The) Soft Machine, who are still enthralling and challenging audiences more than 50 years since their debut. Over the years they have had numerous incredible musicians through their ranks, with multiple different line-ups, and while there will always be some disagreement about which was the best, there is no doubt that the tenth version of the band can lay claim to that accolade. While Lyn Dobson was with the band just long enough to record one track on 'Third', it was the remaining quartet of Elton Dean (alto sax, saxello, Hohner pianet), Hugh Hopper (bass), Mike Ratledge (Hohner pianet, Lowrey Holiday Deluxe organ, Fender Rhodes) and Robert Wyatt (drums, vocals) who completed that seminal work and then went on to record 'Fourth'.

In February 1971, Soft Machine performed two concerts at the Henie Onstad Art Center near Oslo, Norway, as part of an art exhibition by the Boyle family, with Mark Boyle's films projected during the performances. Mark Boyle, with his partner Joan Hills and their Sensual Laboratory light show, had accompanied Soft Machine on many of theirs gigs in the band's early years, and this was a reunion of sorts. The set came mostly from 'Third' and the newly- released 'Fourth', with a few extras?"Neo-Caliban Grides," soon to appear on Elton Dean's self-titled solo album; 'All White', the only new composition in the set (and the only one to utilize Ratledge's newly-acquired Fender Rhodes piano); and "Pigling Bland," which, despite appearing alongside "All White" on 1972's 'Fifth', actually dated back to 1969, having been written as a new ending for the septet arrangement of "Esther's Nose Job." Both nights were recorded by Meny Bloch with a tape machine connected to the mixing desk, but it was some years before they were made available, with Michael King releasing the second night as 'Live At Henie Onstad Art Centre 1971' in 2009. That has long been unavailable, while the first night has not previously been available at all, but that has now changed. Ian Beabout was given the job of mixing and mastering the tapes, and an amazing job he has done. The best way to listen to this is on headphones, and when one really has the time to do just that, as this release is nearly three hours long, broken into four sets of continuous music. There are long periods where Wyatt shows incredible restraint and control by not playing at all, leaving it to the musicians in front of him to bounce ideas off each other. There is no doubt that the best way to appreciate The Softs is in a live environment, and thanks to Cuneiform we now have the opportunity to revisit four musicians at the height of their powers, and from their performance no- one would believe that in a few short months after this recording that this line-up would be no more with the departure of founder Wyatt.

It is arguable that the second night has more of a togetherness about it, but one would expect that given they had played in the same venue the previous night so were able to get back into the connections more easily, but all four discs show a band very much at the height of their powers. This is Canterbury progressive rock at its very finest, and Cuneiform have provided a lot of information and photos in the booklet, telling the story of the nights and how the recordings were rediscovered. The result is something which is absolutely indispensable to anyone who enjoys this style of music, as Ratledge and Dean combine to create interweaving melodies which bounce off each other, Hopper does much more than "just" play bass as he provides incredible foundations and groove and then at the back is one of the more under-rated drummers from the scene who was then in the prime of his health.

Here we have a wonderful set showing just why Soft Machine have had such a major influence on so many others and why they continue to be an important force in the present day, even if the current line-up has no-one in common with the one from 1971. According to ProgArchives, the most highly rated album by the band is 'Third' (and rightly so), and here we have that line-up doing what they did best, performing incredible music in front of an appreciative audience. Now we are able to experience it for ourselves.

 Six by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.54 | 287 ratings

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Six
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars Featuring the contributions of yet a third defection from Ian Carr's Nucleus in the personhood of uber-talented Karl Kenkins, the band is now rocking as a quartet with absolutely no vocals.

LP 1 - Live Album (41:45) 1. "Fanfare" (0:42) 2. "All white" (4:46) 3. "Between" (2:24) 4. "Riff" (4:36) 5. "37 1/2" (6:51) 6. "Gesolreut" (6:17) 7. "E.P.V." (2:47) 8. "Lefty" (4:56) 9. "Stumble" (1:42) 10. "5 from 13 (for Phil Seamen with love & thanks)" (5:15) 11. "Riff II" (1:20)

LP 2 - Studio Album (34:40) 12. "The soft weed factor "(11:18) Mike Ratledge and Karl Jenkin's minimalist motif on multiple tracks of electric pianos. Nice weave but it's no Phillip Glass or Steve Reich. Bass and drums kick in during the fourth minute, then soprano sax and organ doubling up the melody line over the top. Seems there are nice multiple contributions from each of the band members but the song never really amounts to much besides a jazz-rock weave with the original minimalist tracks--which alone cover the final two minutes. (17.5/20)

13. "Stanley stamps Gibbon album (for B.O.)" (5:58) a more aggressive and sinister motif based once again on a minimalist piano arpeggio turns a little funkier in the second half of the first minute and yet Ratledge's left hand of his piano continues to maintain a short, two-part arpeggi as the song's foundation for the whole of time that Karl Jenkins solos with an heavily-treated/effected soprano sax (three plus minutes)--or is it a celesta keyboard? (8.75/10)

14. "Chloe and the pirates" (9:30) a mild sonic landscape that definitely perpetuates a Canterbury sound and sound over the spacious three minute opening. Karl Jenkins' treated oboe is the lead instrument on this one while Mike maintains a free and frisky support from his seat at the electric piano. John Marshall's drumming is simple but nuanced and supplemented by some conga and other percussion additions while Hugh Hopper's bass is rolling and deep as if perhaps fretless or using extra thick strings. At 6:46 there is a glitch leading into what feels like a loop/repeat of two note electric keyboard riff while the organ rises and performs just beneath the oboe. A "Tomorrow Never Knows"-like reverse track of some instrument also rises to the top, actually ending the song as the lead and only forward sound. Interesting. (17.5/20)

15. "1983" (7:54) nefarious and slightly-bombastic dual pianos and bass play a cinematic motif of suspense while John's heavy ride cymbal play and Hugh's weird "speeded up" bottle-metallophone riff gets repeated to death on top. (13/15)

Total Time: 76:25

With my distrust and aversion to live recordings, I make it a habit to not review live albums, so only LP 2, the studio recordings, earn my attention here.

B/four stars; a fairly good though consistently experimental Still, the studio LP of this release feels as if the boys were very curious and somehow satisfied with releasing to the public the results of their curiosities and experimentations with little regard for any kind of "finished song" product.

 Six by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.54 | 287 ratings

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Six
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by siLLy puPPy
Special Collaborator PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic

4 stars Two years after the departure of Robert Wyatt, SOFT MACHINE was diving deeper into the world of jazz fusion leaving the Canterbury sounds of its origins far behind. The year 1973 was the most productive year of the band's many lineups with two albums emerging and if that wasn't enough the first of these, SIX, was a sprawling double album with 15 tracks that added up to a staggering 76 minutes of nerdy jazz fusion workouts. Once again the band lost one more member and gained another as saxophonist Elton Dean stepped out only to be replaced by Karl Jenkins who impressively displays his many talents as oboist, saxophone player and pianist combined. The album is also unusual in that the first album was a live one while the second was one totally recorded in the studio.

While "Fifth" was arguably the most abstract and difficult to grasp album amongst the greater SOFT MACHINE canon, SIX on the other hands takes a more refined approach and offered tangible grooves and a more accessible sound. While the band had been on the verge of dropping all of the rock aspects altogether, SIX delivered the perfect mix between steady rock beats and streamlined jam-like processions along with the jazz improvisation that had become the SOFT's signature style after Wyatt left and took any considerations of lyrics along which would find their new domain in Matching Mole. SIX pretty much latched onto the new standard that the band would carry on up to the final 70s release "Softs" and once again found yet another member of Nucleus claiming musical asylum with the arrival of Jenkins.

Two albums worth of instrumental jazz fusion is admittedly a lot to take in but surprisingly the powerhouse musical outfit known as SOFT MACHINE was quite amazing in how it could craft memorable and instantly lovable jazz fusion tracks. The first album featured the early live performances of the new lineup and established the band's new style of rockin' a bass and drum groove with an accompanying horn section. As with most SOFT MACHINE albums that differ so greatly in approach, the common thread that connects all of them remains Mike Ratledge's distinct Canterbury tones forged through his intricate keyboard playing. Tracks are both upbeat and slowed down to a percussion less trickle. The live album is really hard to believe that it's really live because the artists are so in tune with each other and the production sounds are so good. The only real indication that they are indeed live recordings is the audience participation that becomes it's most energetic at the end of "Riff II."

The studio recorded album features a lot more interesting uses for the keyboard as a major player. The opening album two track "The Soft Weed Factor" showcases Ratledge's cyclical keyboard playing loops as a key element that that percolates over the bass and drum and allow the soft sensual sax moments. The following "Stanley Stamps Gibbon Album (for B.O.)" offers yet another approach with knotty angular keyboard runs ushering in a faster tempo jazz rock session with heavier saxophone contributions. "Chloe And The Pirates" offers a psychedelic effect with oscillating synthesizer sounds and harkens back to the "Fourth" album. The closing "1983" contrasts greatly from the rest of SIX as it evokes a spooky horror soundtrack with spidery keyboard tinkling, a heavily distorted bass. The percussion only features sporadic cymbal action and lots of bass keys on the piano. It's actually unique to anything on any SOFT MACHINE album and the most overtly avant-jazz of all.

While it may sound like a chore to sit through two albums worth of post-Wyatt SOFT MACHINE jazz fusion, this one actually flows quite nicely as the tracks cede well into the others and the instrumental interplay is top notch. Jenkins seemed to have brought a sense of organization to the SOFT's dystopian approach on "Fifth" and the accessibility is a nice reprise from the overt complexities that had been brewing since "Third." Whereas "Fifth" was more heady in its recondite pursuit of detachment, SIX provides a more hypnotic and relaxing affair that allows you to just go along for the flow. The album is definitely much easier on the ears and requires less investment for it to sink in. The SOFTS were so dedicated to their craft at this point that "Seven" would soon emerge in the same calendar year of 1973.

 Fifth [Aka: 5] by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.44 | 324 ratings

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Fifth [Aka: 5]
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by siLLy puPPy
Special Collaborator PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic

4 stars Continuing down the assembly line of blandly titled album covers with artwork to match, SOFT MACHINE saved all the creative mojo for the music itself by practically reinventing itself with every album. After drifting abruptly away from the Canterbury jazz rock of the early albums on "Fourth," Robert Wyatt finally frustrated with the incessant aggravation of complexity for its own sake in the form of avant-jazz noodling that drifted more into the space jazz realms of Sun Ra than the unique jazz-flavored rock that launched the band's career, FIFTH ( or just 5 ) was the first album to feature a new band member on every subsequent album and the beginning of transforming SOFT MACHINE more into the other famous jazz fusion band of the era - Nucleus - which would find a majority of members just a few albums down the road.

FIFTH itself is an album that showcases the very transition that SOFT MACHINE was undergoing on a seemingly monthly basis especially if you factor in all the archival live albums that showcase new aspects of the band with members not even on the studio albums. With Wyatt out of the picture completely, the band was allowed to take its wildest jazz fantasies into the realms of reality with FIFTH and that's exactly what this album accomplished. Back to the transition part. While Mike Ratledge, Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper were back for more jazzy rock juiciness, the album features not one percussionist but two. Side one featured Australian Phil Howard who honed his chops with The Keith Tippett Group but ultimately didn't have the chops to please the SOFTIES and was nixed before the recording of the album was complete.

Dissatisfied but not dismayed, the band recruited the first of the musicians to start the Nucleus invasion, namely John Marshall who had wowed the jazz fusion community with his works on "Elastic Rock" and "We'll Talk About It Later." His contributions on the second side contrast greatly with the more psychedelic and laidback approach of Howard with more outlandish drumming solos and a more technical and even louder infusion of percussive sounds. The album in some ways sounds a bit disjointed in that regard but the build of of the echoey trippy space jazz on side A actually crafts a stellar buildup for the more demanding and upbeat pieces that follow. Joining in for a guest reprise was double bass master Roy Babbington who had sat in on the "Fourth" sessions however FIFTH was a much sparser affair with no other musicians lurking in the shadows.

With every subsequent album aiming for ever greater complexities with less focus on rock and almost an obsession for improvisation jazz with freeform compositional constructs, SOFT MACHINE continued to alienate fans of yore but also failed to woo over the hardcore jazz cats who were into this sorta thing therefore FIFTH is a bit of a hard pillow to swallow after a sole or even a half dozen listening sessions. Hammering down the time signature extravaganzas like a hard bop addict of the late 1950s, SOFT MACHINE had become more entrenched in the world of avant-jazz to the point that the only recognizable connection to the past were the crazy fuzz-fueled sounds of Ratledge's organ. In many ways FIFTH is the most intangible and abstract of SOFT MACHINE's canon with loose compositional skills blurred by the free for all stampede of instrumentalists run amok.

Side one is laced with trippy echoey keyboards and chilled out saxophone noodling while Howard focuses on fancy cymbal work. The three tracks remain subdued and unsure of themselves as if they were bad children afraid to make too much noise in their room. But as side two introduces itself with bang, the mood suddenly shifts from restraint to anything goes as announced by Marshall's technical drum wizardry that begins "As If." In response Elton Dean starts the serious saxophone frenzy seemingly having a conversation with Ornette Coleman from 1959. Throughout all the changes though is the comforting stability of Ratledge's idiosyncratic organ style which pacifies the soul no matter how wild and wooly the sax and drum combo effect become. Not to say that psychedelic trippiness doesn't occur on the second side, it's just that the dynamics and tempos are way more diverse in their approach.

While it's true that from "Third" and after SOFT MACHINE was going for the gusto in creating wild and innovative jazz fusion in a style unmatched and while "Fourth" was an announcement to the world that SOFT MACHINE was more jazz than rock, FIFTH only codified it all into some sort of musical law. With flirtatious bass grooves that act in accordance with the organ tinkling and wild boy antics at the sax and drum kit, SOFT MACHINE was a veritable jazz powerhouse at this point, a mere few years after the simpler vocal oriented psychedelic pop rock that graced the first two releases. In virtually every way, FIFTH offers two phases of SOFT MACHINE in a single album as a replacement occurred smack dab in the middle of the album which basically prognosticated the band's future where every album would find one member exit and another coming aboard.

FIFTH is hardly the easiest album of the band's career to digest. It's convoluted in many ways, brash, hard to latch onto and well a bit bombastic however it's one of those albums that once adapted to properly will reveal an amazingly talented band that didn't just crank out random noise. These guys were just light years ahead of the competition in their ability to craft complex jazz rock compositions that drifted into a world of its own making. While i would doubt that FIFTH ranks as anyone's all time SOFT MACHINE album (ok i'm sure there must be a few out there!), it is hardly throwaway album that many make it out to be. Bogged down by complexity for its own sake may seem like an exercise in self-aggrandizement but hey, this is the world of jazz and that's really what it's all about. Sure the immediacy of the rock characteristics had all but vanished but as a jazz lover myself, this album has definitely gotten under my skin since my first head scratching visit. Taken on its own terms, FIFTH is actually brilliant.

 Hidden Details by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 2018
3.89 | 236 ratings

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Hidden Details
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Review N 741

Soft Machine was one of the biggest English names in the 60's and 70's. The birthplace of countless talented musicians and with a history full of accidents, the group was one of the forerunners of the psychedelic rock in England, alongside Pink Floyd, and then plunged from head in a very peculiar sound, with traces of free jazz, psychedelic and progressive. The band left classic and unforgettable works full of improvisations and is one of the greats of the Canterbury scene.

"Hidden Details" is the twelfth studio album of Soft Machine and that was released in 2018. The line up on "Hidden Details" is John Etheridge (electric and acoustic guitars), Theo Travis (tenor and soprano saxophones, flutes and fender Rhodes piano), Roy Babbington (bass guitar) and John Marshall (drums and percussion). "Hidden Details" had also the participation of Nick Utteridge (wind chimes) as a guest artist.

The Soft Machine fans had to wait more than forty years for finally have a real Soft Machine studio album, if we discard "Land Of Cockayne", a weaker album probably released due to contractual obligations. So, we can say that finally we have another great studio album by this great and pioneer band. With "Hidden Details" they present an amazingly fresh album. "Hidden Details" is being touted as the first official Soft Machine studio album since "Softs" released in 1976. In the interim, the band worked under the name of Soft Machine Legacy. Under that name, they released a slew of studio and live albums maintaining the high level creativity set by the first two incarnations of the band. At this point in their career, Soft Machine was able to cover all the different phases of their past, particularly their jazzy horn driven music of the early 70's, and their more muscular guitar driven jazz- rock of the mid of the 70's, making of this album a great listen.

"Hidden Details" has thirteen tracks, most of which are new compositions but there are a few re-imaginings of older Soft Machine classics from the 70's. The first track is the title track "Hidden Details". This is a bit an ominous track that offers a very exciting tenor saxophone solo from Travis, and a frankly guitar workout from Etheridge that responds to the Babbington's fuzz bass provocations. The second track "The Man Who Waved At Trains" is an extended re-working of the original "Bundles" album track from 1975, here with Travis given free rein to transform this composition into an entirely new beast with its airy electric piano and flute that adds to it a majestic element. The third track "Ground Lift" offers up some rampaging free-jazz, Travis squawking on his sax and Etheridge's wah-wah saturated guitar battling over Marshall's busy drumming. The fourth track "Heart Off Guard" is a more acoustic track that offers up some more tranquil sounds. It feeds into "Broken Hill" and "Drifting White". The fifth track "Broken Hill" also offers up some more quiet sounds, but this last one offers a bit of smattering prog sound with some psychedelic vibe. The sixth track "Flight Of The Jett" is a freely improvised track that gives to Marshall a chance to demonstrates what a subtle but powerful player he is. It's a great vehicle for Marshall's expert drum passages and percussive work, as well as an assortment of effects laden noises from Etheridge. The seventh track "One Glove" represents the album's first instance of catchy, groove laden jazzy funk, an Etheridge number that also contains a blazing guitar solo that will leave you breathless. The eighth and ninth tracks, "Out Bloody Intro" and "Out Bloody Rageous, Part 1" of their acclaimed third album, is simply great with Travis' great sax lines over some complex rhythms brought by Babbington and Marshall. The tenth track "Drifting White" is a very short and calm track very nice and beautiful to hear. This is a typical jazz/fusion calm piece. The eleventh track "Life On Bridges" is on contrary a lengthy piece that shows again Travis and Etheridge getting involved in a sensational battle between sax and guitar searching for the supremacy over frantic rhythms. The twelfth track "Fourteen Hour Dream" is another piece with more hook laden tracks with some tricky Marshalls drumming, a dreamy flute work and a tasty guitar solo. The thirteenth track "Breathe" is a flute looped inhale and exhale tracks that features only Travis flute and Marshalls's delicate cymbal work. This is a fittingly calm conclusion to a very fine album.

Conclusion: "Hidden Details" is one of the better Soft Machine albums that has become a worthy Soft Machine album and that will certainly be most appreciated by fans of the Canterbury scene, jazz fusion, jazz rock, psychedelic rock and progressive rock in general. "Hidden Details" is a thoroughly welcome and successful resurrection of the Canterbury veterans, which at least fans of the band and the genre shouldn't miss out on. This is jazz-fusion of the highest order, performed by master musicians still at the top of their game. The playing of the gentlemen is of a very high level with some of the best elements that constituted some of the best band's music. Somehow, the new album sounds a bit more like Soft Machine than before. For me, "Hidden Details" is one of the best works from the band since the mid of the 70's. It's almost perfect in many ways. This one will keep you coming back to it more times. So, this is highly recommended.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

 Other Doors by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 2023
3.71 | 44 ratings

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Other Doors
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

4 stars In many ways this is the closing of a chapter in that drummer John Marshall announced his retirement after the recordings of this album before passing away at the age of 82 (this never sounds like the work of an octogenarian). Bassist Roy Babbington announced his retirement after the previous album, 2018's 'Hidden Details', but returned here to guest on a couple of tracks, including a duet with his replacement Fred Thelonious Baker. Theo Travis (tenor & soprano saxophones, flutes, Fender Rhodes piano, electronics) and John Etheridge (guitars) complete the line-up, which has since been augmented by the addition of the extraordinary drummer Asaf Sirkis.

Marshall is to date the longest serving member of Soft Machine in terms of years served, and it is interesting to note that they have included some old numbers on here, possibly in deference to his forthcoming retirement. What is somewhat strange is that while both Marshall and Babbington played on the original recording of "Penny Hitch" (from 'Seven'), neither of them were involved when Soft Machine released their first single in America, "Joy of a Toy" which featured Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers. It is somewhat strange to hear this again as it has been some time since I last played it, and while I am sure there will be plenty of hardcore fans who will believe this is nothing short of sacrilege, I must confess I enjoyed it. At times they are reflective, at others more dynamic and in your face, but always striving to find the perfect combinations of note and tones to make us think and take us on a journey.

Soft Machine have continually reinvented themselves over the years, both musically and in personnel, but at no time have they ever sat back and just played it safe but instead have kept challenging themselves and still tour frequently where their improvisational skills are challenged every night. That they continue to release intriguing and interesting material so far into their career is nothing short of remarkable, and one can only hope that there are many more to come in the future. The Canterbury scene is alive and well in the hands of bands like these, and long may it continue.

 Other Doors by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 2023
3.71 | 44 ratings

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Other Doors
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Fred Baker steps in on bass here to replace Roy Babbington - who guests on a couple of tracks but has otherwise retired from active duty - and the Soft Machine rumbles onwards in this latest studio album. Following on from Hidden Details this offers impeccably produced Canterbury jazz-rock with more of a pinch of psychedelia to it - there's even a revisit to Joy of a Toy, a track from the time when Kevin Ayers was still in the band. As with Hidden Details, it's not the sort of thing which anyone would expect to change the world, but it finds the group still keeping their craft sharp.
Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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