[ SHORT REVIEWS | DETAILED REVIEWS
(51 min, MoonJune & Musea)
TRACK LIST: 1. ASH 11:39 (Etheridge) 2. 1212 12:01 (Hopper) 3. Baker's Street 6:52 (Dean) 4. Kings & Queens 9:11 (Hopper) 5. Two Down 2:44 (Marshall, Etheridge) 6. Big Creese 8:32 (Etheridge) Produced by L Pavcovic & The Soft Machine. LINEUP: Elton Dean - alto sax & saxello; Fender Rhodes John Etheridge - electric guitar Hugh Hopper - bass John Marshall - drums
Prolusion. This album was recorded live in Zaandam, Holland, on May 10, 2005. Apart from the rendering of Kings & Queens from "Soft Machine IV", the CD consists of new compositions (they run 41 minutes), four of which were written especially for this occasion. Although the musicians, whose names you can see in the lineup above, never played all together until now, all of them are former members of SOFT MACHINE, each having made an important contribution to the band's creation. Having taken all this into consideration, I can with a peaceful conscience (and with pleasure) add "Zaandam 2005" as another full-fledged album to the band's discography. To see it, click here. Please note that the discography doesn't include compilations and live albums consisting of previously released tracks either.
Analysis. The youngest member of this legendary English outfit, guitarist John Etheridge, was one of the key figures in the band in the second half of the '70s and, apart from "A Live & Well", recorded with them two studio albums: "Softs" (1976) and "Triple Echo" (1978). John penned three out of the six compositions presented on "Legacy", and I must say they are much more profound and complicated than his earlier works, well matching the classic Soft Machine spirit, which was the group's hallmark until 1973, when Karl Jenkins captured the leadership in the band and turned the course towards a more melodious and accessible sound. Generally, "Zaandam 2005" is easily the most profound and the most unique of the albums that were released under the banner of Soft Machine after 1972. No footsies with Ambient or Hard Rock, no improvisations for the sake of improvisation! As the great scientist and inventor Thomas Edison said, any piece of art is formed "20 percent of inspiration and 80 percent perspiration". How true this sounds regarding "Zaandam 2005"! The music is filled with a genuine inspiration and is full of magic, but I can imagine how much time and labor the band spent so as to be able to keep all those qualities intact while playing the stuff at a stretch, on the scene. This is serious, highly complex music, but what's wonderful is that it's immediately attractive - the factor that will really make the old connoisseurs of Soft Machine happy and will obtain new fans for the group as well. From the very beginning of the album, I found myself in a highly unusual atmosphere, unfamiliar to me, in which, however, I felt exceptionally comfortably, as if I've just returned to my hearth and home, and all of that lasted until the end. The same wonderful feeling I most often experienced at the time of my youth, while discovering for myself the classic progressive works of the '70s. ASH, 1212 and the rearranged version of Kings & Queens by Hugh Hopper are almost fully structured compositions and are mostly of a mixed, atmospherically eclectic character. At times, Etheridge and Dean do the solos in fourth and fifth, providing the fixed themes and, thus, paving the way for the untried listener. For the most part, however, all four of the musicians play as if disengaging themselves from each other, weaving pronouncedly different patterns, and yet the whole fabric appears to be amazingly coherent. Indeed, the music is harmonically perfect from any standpoint, and while it concerns Jazz-Fusion, I'd better avoid defining it with that term. Otherwise I should do the same regarding Yes's "Tales from Topographic Oceans", because there is certainly something in common between these two albums, at least atmospherically. Furthermore, there also are occasional excursions into avant-garde music, with dark and dissonant RIO-like maneuvers. Brilliant compositions. The third track, Baker's Street (I assume this is a subtly titled dedication to Sherlock Holmes), is in the same vein overall, but while the arrangements are still pleasantly eclectic, they develop smoothly, without sudden changes and jam explosions. In my view, it would've been more expedient to place it in the first position, though by saying this, I am just putting myself in the place of the uninitiated listener. The last two tracks can be defined some more precisely than the others. The short Two Down is a fast Jazz Rock improvisation, the 'battle' between John Etheridge and John Marshall, joined by the other two musicians only at the very end. In fact, there is no pause between Two Down and Big Creese, so the former sounds as an intro to its follow-up rather than as a separate composition. Big Creese begins rhythmically, with the basic theme, developed by the intensive interplay between heavy guitar riffs and electric piano passages (Elton Dean switches over from saxophone to electric piano and vice versa on each of the tracks), being repeated two or three times. Later on, the music is steadily getting faster, denser, darker, more hypnotic and more intricate simultaneously, reaching the apotheosis shortly before the ending. Another killer in the set, the best general definition of which would probably be Heavy Jazz Rock meets RIO. (PS I don't recognize the styles named after the regions etc they have arisen from: Canterbury, Krautrock et al. It's just a nonsense to put Soft Machine and Caravan into the same category, not to mention putting them on the same level.)
Conclusion. Welcome back to the ranks, Soft Machine! "Zaandam 2005" is a gem and, along with "III", "IV" and "V", is one of the band's best albums. I don't know whether it turned out to be so fresh and innovative due to the 'new' lineup factor, but it doesn't matter. This is clever, tasteful music, with an atmosphere, which is both mysterious and mesmerizing. Those profound into a complex Progressive Rock with jazzy and avant-garde tendencies will felicitate themselves by making a priority purchase. Top-2005
VM: Agst 22, 2005
[ SHORT REVIEWS | DETAILED REVIEWS - LIST | BANDLISTS ]