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(65:36 / MoonJune Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Footloose 8:46 2. The Steamer 4:38 3. The Big Man 5:08 4. Chloe & the Pirates 7:27 5. In the Back Room 7:10 6. The Last Day 5:20 7. Firefly 6:41 8. So English 8:29 9. Dave Acto 6:25 10. Anything to Anywhere 5:20 LINEUP: Hugh Hopper - bass; loops John Etheridge - guitar John Marshall - drums Theo Travis - saxophones, flute
Prolusion. One of the longest running progressive bands, England's SOFT MACHINE are back with their twelfth studio album, "Legacy Steam". Please don't correct me that the act's current name is Soft Machine Legacy and that the title of their latest release is "Steam". Despite the appearance of Theo Travis (of Gong, Porcupine Tree and solo fame, as a replacement for the late Elton Dean) who, unlike any of the other musicians, was never part of Soft Machine itself, I still perceive this act as just another reincarnation of the legend, especially since their lineup was never notable for its stability. Click here for Soft Machine's discography and more reviews of their output.
Analysis. This 65-minute recording comprises ten instrumental tracks, ranging roughly from five to nine minutes, and is a creation whose seriousness and progressiveness is a challenge to probably all the other still existing 'dinosaurs', and speaking figuratively, I doubt if any of those would dare to accept it. It wouldn't be enough to merely note that Theo Travis fits the band's creative philosophy well, as this saxophone and flute player brings plenty of new colorations to their work, which therefore appears to be still open for any fresh and innovative ideas, revealing not even tiny hints of stagnation or tiredness either. The sparseness of repetitions as well as conventional jazz-rock tricks (such as unison leads and syncopated swing-based moves) makes this album more difficult to comprehend than "Legacy", but personally I just welcome everything indicating that the group continues to evolve. Their further growth is evident throughout here, their skill in imparting magic to their music being witnessed by literally each of the tracks present. In terms of style, this recording is also more diverse than its predecessor, most of the compositions finding the musicians more than once accelerating their pace, frequently changing time signatures and more. With the emphasis on the inventive and busy interplays between various saxophones, guitar, bass, drums and (less often) flute, instead of sections for one or two lead instruments, the arrangements are usually multi-layered and wonderfully involved, brightly reflecting the group approach to develop themes. The first two tracks, Footloose and The Steamer, each suggest classic Jazz Rock / Fusion with a strong improvisational quality, and yet almost everything there is carefully arranged and played fluently. The music is multi-sectional in a typically progressive rock manner, with lots of transitions and undercurrents. Firefly is the same story overall, but features a drum solo from John Marshall that, however, fits well into the piece's construction. In the Back Room and (a new interpretation of) Chloe & the Pirates are both mellower, more groove-oriented compositions, but it's particularly on each of these where the band's skill in slackening or accelerating their pace is especially striking. One way or another, both take a few listens to sink in and are generally fascinating tunes, inferior to some of the others only in the dynamics of their overall development. The Last Day, So English and Dave Acto are all eclectic Space Fusion with a very strong psychedelic and jam rock vibe, all manifesting some kinship with Gong, though on the other hand there are plenty of flute trills on each, which make them sound unlike anything else. The remaining two tracks, The Big Man and Anything to Anywhere, both stand out for their heavy sound, bringing to mind the concept of Jazz Metal. As excellent as all the players are, in some ways it is Travis's saxophones and flute that really set this latest offering from Soft Machine apart from any of their previous releases.
Conclusion. This recording is an ultimately unique and highly impressive piece of musical art where most of the compositions are genuine masterworks. Performed with a remarkable mastery, abundant in brave decisions and true discoveries, "Legacy Steam" is Soft Machine's best and most complex album since "VI". Top-20-2007
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: January 14, 2008
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