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(57 min, MoonJune / Musea)
TRACK LIST: 1. Kite Runner 6:57 2. Ratlift 7:55 3. Twelve-Twelve 10:20 4. F & I 2:08 5. Fresh Brew 6:24 6. New Day 3:47 7. Fur Edge 2:49 8. Theta Meter 3:44 9. Grape Hound 6:56 10. Strange Comforts 6:26 PERSONNEL: Elton Dean - alto sax, saxello John Etheridge - electric guitar Hugh Hopper - electric bass John Marshall - drums
Prolusion. Although this release officially comes as the eponymous Soft Machine Legacy album, I can't force myself to regard it otherwise than as SOFT MACHINE - "Legacy", which, hence, would be the band's first studio offering in 25 years. My, hmm, prior exposure to Soft Machine consists of all their studio albums and two live recordings, one of which, "Zaandam 2005", is made up predominantly of new compositions. Co-produced by the band and MoonJune's Leonardo Pavcovic, "Legacy" was recorded at East Coast studio in the group's motherland / permanent residence, UK, in the fall of last year. Sadly, Elton Dean had passed away on the 7th of February 2006, a few months before the CD was released.
Analysis. "Legacy" finds Dean, Etheridge, Hopper and Marshall having deviated from those progressive Space Fusion-related experimentations that highlight much of their previous release "Zaandam 2005", turning to more conventional improvisational Jazz Rock. But while most of the music has a very strong impromptu element, eight of the ten instrumental compositions present are totally cohesive, though I wouldn't say I like the more abstract Fresh Brew and Theta Meter less than the others, as they have their own merit and charm, the never-changing (really monotonous) beat of a drum on the latter just accentuating the piece's overall asymmetry. One of the two shorter tracks, Fur Edge, draws a picture of a kind of duel between saxophone and drums and is also somewhat abstract. I see no keyboard player listed in the booklet, while the Rhodes electric piano is an important part of the music on three compositions, F & I, Ratlift and New Day, bringing to each a nostalgic 'classic' Jazz Rock flavor reminiscent of the group's heyday. I believe it was Dean who played the piano, as he is the only among the four musicians who previously handled keyboards - surely, apart from his primary instruments. The 2-minute F & I has the piano throughout, though there are only two instruments in all, the other being electric guitar. New Day is moderately intense from beginning to end, with all five of the instruments soloing contrastingly throughout, and yet, together creating a surprisingly coherent picture. That said, this is what I most of all love classic Jazz-Fusion for, and here it is - of the first water, without any digressions from, well, itself. All the improvisational grandeur we can expect from these four legendary personages is here, the playing being strong and inspired, though the work of John Marshall, who is tireless in delivering complex pounding beats, is probably the most impressive. Generally (unlike "Soft Works" for instance), all the musicians are consistently in the spotlight on this effort, all sharing the lead instead of alternating with each other at the fore. On the longer two pieces, the group have largely expanded their scope - in all the meanings of the term "scope". Along with Twelve-Twelve, which is a sort of centaur of structured atmospheric Space Fusion with a mystic aura and intensely jamming Jazz Rock, Ratlift is one of the most diverse and progressively compelling compositions on the disc. The only track that isn't completely new, it represents the group's variations on Soft Machine's earlier pieces, namely As If, Slightly All the Time and Facelift, and the result is more than merely impressive, a magic reigning everywhere. Most of the basic themes are composed; the music is emotional, but not only in itself, as it also possesses an immediately recognizable mood - referring to the darker side of our customary emotional spectrum. There also are elements of atmospheric and heavy progressive music, the direct and latent guitar riffs sounding menacing, like the echoes of a coming earthquake. This is the band's joint creation and is brilliant, as also is Hugh Hopper's Twelve-Twelve. Well, Kite Runner and Grape Hound are comparable with New Day, although both have a strong Rock component, which however doesn't mean they are heavy. John Etheridge has a very personal style, as well as a vision of how Jazz-Fusion should rock. The concluding piece Strange Comforts is basically slow and is the most melodious, despite the fact that even the amount of quasi improvisations is relatively little. Finally, let me tell you my favorite pieces, in descending order (though all of them are remarkable): Ratlift, Twelve-Twelve, Grape Hound, New Day and Kite Runner.
Conclusion. For some reason, I had foreseen that spontaneity would have a certain place on "Legacy", but the real amount of impromptus has surpassed all my expectations, only two pieces (thankfully the longest) having turned out to be notable for strictly composed movements. So, this release is destined above all to the versed fans of improvisational music and, in that way, can be highly recommended mainly only to those into pronouncedly jazzy Jazz-Rock/Fusion, from a viewpoint of which this is in all senses an excellent album. In any event, "Legacy" is a must-have addition to the band's legacy.
VM: September 6, 2006
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