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The Soft Machine - Floating World Live (Bremen 1975) CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

3.84 | 54 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars This is the classic and short lived "Bundles" lineup of Soft Machine, featuring three former members of Canterbury-related jazz rock/fusion band Nucleus (John Marshall, Karl Jenkins and Roy Babbington) and the wonderful talents of the effervescent former Tempest and 'Igginbottom guitarist, Allan Holdsworth.

The highlight of this live set - recorded in Bremen, Germany in 1975, to an appreciative and seemingly laid-back audience - is Allan Holdsworth's guitar and violin playing. Of course, he is naturally complimented in great style and aplomb, by the rest of the band, including veteran Softs member Mike Ratledge on Synth, Lowery and Fender Rhodes.

We have classic tracks here, such as Bundles, Hazard Profile Part 1 (but not the other parts, alas, due to a commercial break in the radio broadcast) and The Man Who Waved At Trains, as well as a few more improvised cuts, such as Ealing Comedy - a wonderful piece consisting of Roy Babbington playing an enigmatic bass solo - and J.S.M. which is a 10 minute plus drum solo by John Marshall (hence the track title). Another highlight is Riff III, where Holdsworth once more steals the limelight with his wonderful searing guitar work that gets a welcome round of applause. The highlight track for me though is Land of the Bag Snake, where Holdsworth takes over precedings and plays an amazing solo full of every trick he knows.

Holdsworth even brings out his violin (he is no slouch with this instrument either) on The Man Who Waved at Trains, which is another favourite of mine and which is a totally reworked version to the guitar and sax orientated version on "Bundles" (which is much shorter too) and "B.B.C. Radio 1971-1974". A slower piece, featuring the rolling bass of Roy Babbington and later on, the sax and oboe of Karl Jenkins which segues into Peff (a rare sax and oboe solo outing for Jenkins).

Every member has their turn for soloing. As mentioned, Babbington and Marshall have tracks to themselves and Holdsworth has many great moments on both violin (only on the one track) and guitar throughout. Karl Jenkins is not Elton Dean, but he is still a wonderful player and he shines on Peff and adds some piano on many pieces, including Song of Aeolus (an early version of the track from "Softs", with John Etheridge, rather than Holdsworth). Ratledge himself has an enticing solo on North Point (compare this to the BBC Radio 1971-1974 version).

Compositionally speaking, this lineup of Soft Machine were at their best. Jenkins and Ratledge working together, made a huge difference to the sound. Gone was the free-jazz of Hopper and Dean and instead, it was replaced by excellent and tightly played compositional tracks, which in many respects digress from the jazz realm (e.g. The Floating World). Both Jenkins and Ratledge would abandon jazz music later in their careers and this era of Soft Machine is quite possibly where they started to change their style. Jenkins also started to play the saxophone and oboe a lot less and subsequently became a keyboard player instead. Holdsworth took over the solo duties on guitar, whilst Jenkins and Ratledge preferred to compose and virtually abandoned soloing on their instruments.

This is an album for all Holdsworth, Nucleus and late-era Soft Machine fans, as well as anyone who appreciates wonderful jazz/fusion guitar playing. This is not anything like the original (and still wonderful and eclectic) early Soft Machine with Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean, but some would arguably say this was their finest lineup, especially in terms of their jazz fusion period and I probably would agree with them. Alas, Holdsworth only stayed with Soft Machine for a short time and only played on one studio album "Bundles" and was replaced by John Etheridge. However, Holdsworth can also be found on the second disc of Soft Machine's "B.B.C. Radio 1971-1974" release, as well as numerous solo albums and guest work with such jazz luminaries as Tony Williams, Stanley Clarke and even Derek Sherinian.

For me, this is an essential live album and I only wish there were more Soft Machine live albums featuring Allan Holdsworth.

4 stars from me.

VanderGraafKommandöh | 4/5 |


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