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The Soft Machine - Third CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine


Canterbury Scene

4.20 | 1168 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

5 stars Intense, dissonant, wonderful, abrasive, laid back, elegant, raw, complex, all in a single package...

If Hatfield And The North's Rotter's Club is the most beautiful of all Canterbury records, Matching Mole's debut is the quirkiest, then this is the most complete. Packed with great ideas, splendid songwriting and flawless musicianship, if Third does not deserve the title of masterpiece of prog music nothing does.

Comparisions are often made between this record and Davis's Bitches Brew, and while Miles's way of jazz did inspire Soft Machine's, both only have one thing in common: their own clever way of mixing different styles, apart from that, it's all good but unlike the other.

Their previous record (Volume Two) represented an unexpected and welcome change to the music of the Softs and music in general with their very own absurdist psychedelia merged to jazz, the very beginning of jazz-rock and jazz fusion, and yet, it remained strangely catchy even if slightly hinting to things to come. That very year, 1969, Soft Machine was augmented by jazzmen Nick Evans, Mark Charig, Lyn Dobson and Elton Dean, giving way to a jazzier approach with extended improvisations and complex time-signatures, and even if the septet quickly dissolved into a quintet, this approach was kept as new songs entered the group's setlist.

Third is the realisation of this process, a collection of four different classics, each clocking at about 20 minutes long and featuring distinct movements. A tour-de-force where the soon-to-be gold quartet are joined by guest musicians to present their revolutionary thoughts to the world.

The record opens with "Facelift", a track recorded in January 1970, when Soft Machine was still a quintet featuring madman Lyn Dobson. It's a, by all means, difficult track, a rock piece inside a jazz format, but a very good one. It was written by bassist Hugh Hopper in 1969, appearing on their setlists at the time in a significantly small version (just a 4 minute track with the first two riffs and a fuzz organ improv), being recorded for their Spaced project, and being performed by the legendary septet, but this version is the ultimate recording, a standard so high that no other version before or after has ever reached. The sound of it is muddy and brutal with a plenty of hiss, but after you break that atmosphere lots of fun await, including a Jethro Tull-like flute solo by Lyn Dobson which unfortunately (or otherwise) does not include the raga-inspired chants he became known for.

"Slightly All The Time" is a complex piece consisting of about six different movements, all with their own characters. It's first part, 6 minutes, is probably the only link to Miles Davis of the record, a beautiful modal improv dominated by Elton Dean's double-tracked alto saxophone; the second part is a progressive fast paced section (my favourite) featuring the guest appearance of Jimmy Hasting on flute. Also worthy of note is the Hopper-penned movement "Noisette", a delicate mini-song with a simple but effective bassline, entirely unlike of it's reprise at the end, an ugly, agressive and visceral deja-vu that finishes it in a majestic way.

For an album so different from the previous two, Wyatt's "Moon In June" is a brief (not that much, though it seems like) return to form, but also the last. While their famous psychedelia only appears at some spots in Third, this piece is just dripping of it, not dissipating even during the extended jam in the middle, not strangely, except for the aforementioned jam and Rab Spall's violin solo, Robert recorded "Moon In June" on his own. The lyrics are completely improvised, though intelligible, his fragile, and dare I say beautiful, voice is used as an instrument only, and his drumming is top notch as always, not only here but everywhere.

And last but not least, "Out-Bloody-Rageous". A loop made of backwards Hohner Pianet overdubs opens the track, but 5 minutes in and a riff fest graced by a fuzz organ solo starts, but there's also a moving piano/sax movement, a crescendo pattern featuring wah organ, an ominous ending and more loops, ending both the piece and the record.

Third may not be for everybody, and all the people who didn't like the direction of Volume Two or hates jazz should stay clear, that said, there's a plentyful of rock and traces of psychedelia enough to be of interest to open-minded listeners. The size of the four gems may also be scary, and yet, so full of frequent metamorphoses, there's no place for the boredom factor to settle.

This is the album that made the classic line-up of Dean, Hopper, Ratledge, Wyatt to be recognized as such, recorded in a what is arguably their peak and, as some view it, their last great record before their said decline. From now on, The Soft Machine would become an all-instrumental avant-garde jazz led by Mike Ratledge rather than jazz-rock outfit , a change that would separate Wyatt from the rest of the band and eventually lead to his exit.

JackFloyd | 5/5 |


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