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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 (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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Hidden DetailsHidden Details
Dyad 2018
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Soft Machine Volume TwoSoft Machine Volume Two
SUNDAZED MUSIC 2014
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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
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BBC Radio: 1967-71BBC Radio: 1967-71
Hux Records 2003
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BundlesBundles
Remastered
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Land Of Cockayne /  Soft MachineLand Of Cockayne / Soft Machine
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ThirdThird
Remastered
Sony Music Canada Inc. 2011
$6.62
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44
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THE SOFT MACHINE discography


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

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

4.03 | 514 ratings
The Soft Machine
1968
4.06 | 455 ratings
Volume Two
1969
4.22 | 922 ratings
Third
1970
3.50 | 314 ratings
Fourth
1971
3.37 | 242 ratings
Fifth [Aka: 5]
1972
3.48 | 214 ratings
Six
1973
3.66 | 247 ratings
Seven
1973
4.07 | 323 ratings
Bundles
1975
3.90 | 212 ratings
Softs
1976
2.02 | 60 ratings
Karl Jenkins: Rubber Riff
1976
3.01 | 129 ratings
Land Of Cockayne
1981
4.09 | 62 ratings
Hidden Details
2018

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

2.87 | 70 ratings
Alive & Well - Recorded in Paris
1978
3.24 | 29 ratings
Live at the Proms (1970)
1988
4.04 | 33 ratings
The Peel Sessions
1990
4.28 | 20 ratings
BBC Live In Concert 1971
1993
3.73 | 17 ratings
BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert 1972
1994
3.91 | 35 ratings
Live At The Paradiso
1995
3.31 | 22 ratings
Live In France (Paris)
1995
3.69 | 38 ratings
Virtually
1998
2.77 | 17 ratings
Live 1970
1998
4.06 | 56 ratings
Noisette
2000
3.42 | 30 ratings
Backwards
2002
1.21 | 9 ratings
Facelift
2002
4.07 | 39 ratings
BBC - Radio 1967 - 1971
2003
4.09 | 31 ratings
BBC Radio 1971 - 1974
2003
3.00 | 7 ratings
Somewhere In Soho
2004
3.58 | 12 ratings
Soft Stage BBC In Concert 1972
2005
2.00 | 1 ratings
Orange Skin Food
2005
3.33 | 12 ratings
Breda Reactor
2005
3.35 | 15 ratings
Soft Machine & Heavy Friends BBC In Concert 1971
2005
3.81 | 29 ratings
British Tour '75
2005
3.80 | 42 ratings
Floating World Live (Bremen 1975)
2006
4.41 | 58 ratings
Grides
2006
2.58 | 20 ratings
Middle Earth Masters
2006
3.06 | 24 ratings
Drop
2008
4.18 | 27 ratings
Live At Henie Onstad Art Centre
2009
4.37 | 27 ratings
NDR Jazz Workshop, Germany, May 17, 1973
2010
0.00 | 0 ratings
Daevid Allen & Gilli Smyth With The Soft Machine Family: Live At The Roundhouse 1971
2012
3.96 | 9 ratings
Switzerland 1974
2015

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

4.51 | 24 ratings
Alive in Paris-1970
2008

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

0.00 | 0 ratings
The Soft Machine (Compilation)
1970
3.18 | 18 ratings
Face And Place Vol. 7 (also called Jet Propelled Photographs and At The Beginning)
1972
4.38 | 47 ratings
The Soft Machine Collection [also released as: Volumes One and Two]
1973
3.94 | 16 ratings
Triple Echo
1977
4.00 | 1 ratings
Rock Storia E Musica: Soft Machine
1983
3.08 | 23 ratings
Jet Propelled Photographs
1989
3.23 | 7 ratings
The Untouchable Collection (1975-78)
1990
4.38 | 4 ratings
As If...
1991
3.10 | 2 ratings
Soft Machine (Live & Demos)
1994
3.57 | 5 ratings
The Best Of Soft Machine...The Harvest Years
1995
3.40 | 29 ratings
Spaced (1969)
1996
3.59 | 23 ratings
Fourth / Fifth
1999
3.50 | 2 ratings
soft machine
2000
1.97 | 12 ratings
Man in a Deaf Corner: Anthology 1963-1970
2001
3.33 | 6 ratings
Turns On Vol. 1
2001
2.20 | 6 ratings
Turns On Vol. 2
2001
1.67 | 7 ratings
Kings Of Canterbury
2003
3.39 | 8 ratings
Six/Seven
2004
4.03 | 8 ratings
Out Bloody Rageous (Anthology 67-73)
2005
1.00 | 2 ratings
The Story of Soft Machine
2005
3.49 | 13 ratings
Original Album Classics
2010
0.00 | 0 ratings
Tanglewood Tails
2014

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

3.07 | 8 ratings
Love Makes Sweet Music
1968
4.00 | 4 ratings
Why Are We Sleeping?
1968
3.67 | 6 ratings
Soft Space
1978
2.00 | 1 ratings
Bundles (Promo Single)
2010

THE SOFT MACHINE Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Alive & Well - Recorded in Paris by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Live, 1978
2.87 | 70 ratings

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Alive & Well - Recorded in Paris
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by WFV

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 early stuff. If Allan Holdsworth were still there to wail away this would be a landmark along with the best 11th House records. Still, this quirky release is a nice late night snack for inclined parties. The Nodder is an especially effective slab of the finest guitar keyboard out in front locked in rhythm section fusion.
 Hidden Details by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 2018
4.09 | 62 ratings

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Hidden Details
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by WFV

4 stars I'm really glad I bought this record. The pros for me echo previous reviews - these old guys really can still wail and the music is energetic and lively - it fits right in with the Soft Machine canon that hadn't seen a shiny studio release since the early eighties. This music is welcome indeed for Soft Machine fans. For those who have never heard their music, I think this would be a fine place to start. Yeah, their discography definitely needed a better curtain call than the Land of Cocayne. The cons - I'm not crazy about sax as a lead instrument in a fusion setting. It just doesn't set my world on fire like a guitar. Good thing is these guys can play anything and that isn't a huge drawback for me. Good album.
 Hidden Details by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 2018
4.09 | 62 ratings

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Hidden Details
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars There can be few British bands that can say that they have had as much impact on music as the mighty Softs, and here a mere 37 years after their last studio album they are back with a new one. Originally formed in 1966, with their debut album in 1968, they have continued to be at the cutting edge of fusion and have had some incredible musicians pass through their ranks. The band officially disbanded in 1978, then reformed briefly in 1981 and then 1984 before returning as Soft Ware in 1999, which in turn became Soft Works, before morphing into Soft Machine Legacy in 2004, and then at the end of 2015 they decided to drop the word "Legacy". But given that guitarist John Etheridge, bassist Roy Babbington and drummer John Marshall were all in the same line-up(s) in the Seventies, they have a more than valid claim to the name. The only member of the band who wasn't involved back then is Theo Travis, who provides sax, flute and Fender Rhodes. But, he joined Soft Machine Legacy as long ago as 2006, when he replaced Elton Dean after he had passed away.

Anyone who admits to enjoying Canterbury progressive rock or fusion will have multiple Soft Machine albums in their collection, and this one fits right in. John Etheridge is an incredible guitarist, and it takes someone very special indeed to step into the shoes of Allan Holdsworth, not once but twice. He is lyrical, dramatic, restrained yet over the top, simple yet complex, allowing the music to take him where it will. Every musician is an absolute master of his craft, and they push the envelope in so many ways. Jazz, prog, fusion, call it whatever you like but this is intricately crafted music that is both awe inspiring yet inviting, eclectic yet so very easy to get inside of, and the more time spent with it the greater the rewards. Some of these guys are nearly 80 years old now, yet show no sign at all of slowing down. This is an essential purchase.

 Hidden Details by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 2018
4.09 | 62 ratings

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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
4.09 | 62 ratings

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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
2.02 | 60 ratings

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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
4.22 | 922 ratings

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Third
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 | 314 ratings

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Fourth
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

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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

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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.

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

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