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The Soft Machine - NDR Jazz Workshop, Germany, May 17, 1973 CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

4.48 | 30 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
5 stars A rather odd title for the usual posthumous Soft Machine releases (usually borrowing one of the group's compositions), but this outstanding CD + DVD release does need that to be an absolutely essential testimony for the Jenkins-era Machine, even if the guitar will just ake a short appearance. Indeed this German TV special session dates from 73 around the release of 7, but one can sense that bundles is their next step, due to Gary Boyle's (of Isotope) appearance, but it's still the classic era's stuff that holds the lion's share of the two sets. Since the Cd and the DVD hold quasi exactly the same material (there are one or two tracks that the other recorded version doesn't have), I'll be reviewing the DVD for this excellent exhibition of their unique type of Canterburyan JR/F.

One of the reason why this writer loves so much this era is that, despite the monumental Third album, I wasn't that much a fan of Elton Dean's dissonant improvisations, and it got worse on their fifth album when Phil Howard replaced Wyatt behind the skins. Thankfully, this didn't last and the Nucleus boys (Marshall first, then Jenkins) turned the tide back to more melodic ambiances, much to the displeasure of bassist Hopper (also gone by this TV broadcast), who'd grown a solid dislike of Jenkins' songwriting and personality. But yours truly really appreciates Jenkins' versatility as he proved much more useful than Dean, by not only playing sax, but creating absolutely wonderful ambiances by dueting on electric piano with Ratledge and also twiddling electronic potentiometers, thus adding a different compositional and sonic dimension previously absent under the former Dean- Wyatt/Howard quartet. Strangely enough, a lot of the electronic fiddlings are handled by Jenkins instead of Ratledge who seems to abandon a bit his fuzzed-out Lowrey organ.

Marshall's awesome drumming (he's the third and final Machine drummer, Legacy-era included) is incredibly supportive of the two frontmen's soft improvisations, and Babbington's bass (also an ex-Nucleist), although not as intuitive as Hopper's, is very solid as well, but he's the newcomer and still has to find his real marks within the group. This set is also enhanced by the (short) guest appearance of Art Themen on tenor (then alto) sax (Jenkins either playing alto or less-frequently baritone) and Gary Boyle's guitar, both guest providing much special spices to the usual Machine sets. Another dimension not year plainly visible are the double electric piano interludes allowing for the band to change from one track to the other, called "Link", lasting from 45 to 220 seconds. . This absolutely essential Machine double-disc package holds the second DVD that the excellent Cuneiform label released after the short Grides broadcast, which benefited from Wyatt's presence, but by no means is this one less important. Coupled with the Live In Paris ORTF TV broadcast of the third-era line-up, this is a fabulous trio that every Machinist must have.

Sean Trane | 5/5 |


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