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(59:13; Moonjune Records)
The tale of the history of Soft Machine is complex, with spin-off bands aplenty, and a gap of 37 years between releases under the original name, yet in many ways that is somehow apt given the complexity and groundbreaking nature of their music. Three of this line-up were members of the band back in the Seventies, namely - John Etheridge (guitar), Roy Babbington (bass) and John Marshall (drums), while Theo Travis (sax, flute, electric piano) had been a member of Soft Machine Legacy since 2006. When Roy joined that band in 2009, the quartet formed such a bond that in 2015 they felt they could drop the “Legacy” element, and in 2018 released ‘Hidden Details’, the first new Soft Machine studio album since 1981’s ‘Land of Cockayne’. Recorded live at The Baked Potato, February 1st, 2020, during the Soft Machine's 50th Anniversary World Tour 2019/2020, this was their first return to LA since opening for Jimi Hendrix at the Hollywood Bowl on September 14th, 1968, so it had been a while. Listening to the energy coming from the stage it is hard to realise just how old these guys are, with Theo Travis being the youngster as he is only in his late fifties, while Roy and John Marshall were only just in their seventies when this was recorded, and are both now in their eighties, while John Etheridge is also in his seventies. This album shows just how great music and great musicians are somehow timeless, and when Etheridge lets rip, he really shows the youngsters what can be done on a guitar when you have spent so many years mastering it. Travis provides the musical glue which allows the Etheridge the room to play, but it is the rhythm section which keeps it all so controlled and on point at all times. As well as tunes from the latest album, we of course also get plenty of classics from the Seventies, including “Out-Bloody-Rageous”, “Hazard Profile”, “Kings And Queens”, “The Tale Of Taliesin” and “The Man Who Waved At Trains”, but it does not matter if they are playing old or new, as there is a seamless and ageless quality. At times delicate, at others rumbunctious, this is the absolute highest quality, which one would expect from Soft Machine. Any serious proghead or jazz lover will have at least some Soft Machine albums in their collection: this should be added, as music as good as this needs the recognition it deserves.
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