Much of this newly issued outing recorded by the legendary and pioneering U.K., based ensemble Soft Machine, focuses on improvising drummer Phil Howard’s explosive presence. And with eminent journalist Steve Lake providing the blow-by-blow in the liners, we get a comprehensive glimpse into the band’s wide-ranging but distinctive aura. The music presented here is culled from the unit’s 1971 tour of Germany and bestows us with yet another viewpoint of the musicians straddling the oblique indicators of jazz-rock and free-jazz.
Howard replaced drummer Robert Wyatt who at the time took a sabbatical. And upon his relocation from Australia in 1969 Howard nestled his wares among Britain’s cutting-edge jazz scene prior to joining Soft Machine for his five month tour of duty. Ultimately, the program captures the artists executing a blustery and intense sequence of balls-to-the-walls type musical statements. And it’s all enamored by keyboardist Mike Ratledge and saxophonist Elton Dean’s subtle infusions of the group’s signature manner of spinning a melody line via its more conventional songbook.
No doubt, the sheer power and scope of these works equate to a hard act to follow whether we’re talking thirty-eight years past, or perhaps when considering present times. Moreover, Howard accelerates and whiplashes the proceedings like a man on a mission with no looking back. Then we consider Ratledge with his fuzz-toned Lowery organ and sinewy Fender Rhodes phrasings amid Dean’s razor sharp attack on saxes, offer a layered jazz vibe atop Howard and bassist Hugh Hopper’s booming yet limber cadences.
It’s a deconstruction fest for the mind’s eye. With avant-swing and clamoring asymmetrical pulses, the artsits sport an energized gait, spiced with scrappy interplay and ominous inflections. This is Soft Machine rendering a free-jazz/rock colossus that sizzles and radiates unimaginable power while generating shades of the much beloved Canterbury Music Scene that looms as a one of the more creative times in twentieth century Western music. (Essential!)