Among the wealth of archival material released during present times, this combo CD+DVD product looms as a rather scintillating entry into the band’s storied discography. The live session denotes never before released material, culled from Germany’s "NDR Jazz Workshop,” recorded in 1973. And as the press release cites, the album marks one of the earliest shows by this incarnation of the band, supplemented by guitarist Gary Boyle (Isotope) and saxophonist Art Themen. Moreover, the accompanying DVD is a crystal clear presentation of the 1973 set, including a fifteen-minute audio-only bonus piece, garnered from 1983 and featuring legendary Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hooper.
Re-mastered and pristinely restored, the program is entrenched within the band’s cutting-edge fusion of progressive-rock and avant-garde jazz. With drummer John Marshall’s bustling polyrhythmic cadences and bassist Roy Babbington’s firm lines, the soloists embark on extended soloing jaunts. They interlock the primary themes, yet the ensemble’s melodic manifesto -- treated with memorable hooks -- serve as the core platform throughout.
On the piece “Riff,” Mike Ratledge’s infamous gravelly organ phrasings ride atop saxophonist Karl Jenkins’ tuneful ostinato riffs while Marshall defies the laws of gravity via his monstrous tom rolls and soaring attack. Guitarist Gary Boyle, who in 1972 launched the fusion band Isotope, joins the group for the second part of the production and augments Soft Machine’s stylistic approach with searing single note runs. Yet, on “Chloe and the Pirates,” Jenkins and Ratledge temper it all down a notch with a dreamy and haunting melody, and then rev the events back into hyper-mode.
Soft Machine’s renaissance emphasizes and rekindles the early magic. These days, Soft Machine’s influence is morphing into a school of applied concepts while tendering an educational domain along the way. Hopefully the seemingly vast resources of material will not end here.