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(58:14, Moonjune Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Has Riff II 8:30 2. Grapehound 8:38 3. The Nodder 7:03 4. In the Black Room 9:42 5. Song of Aeolus 6:58 6. The Relegation of Pluto 3:02 7. Gesolfeut 5:52 8. Facelift 3:28 9. The Last Day 5:01 LINEUP: John Etheridge – guitar Roy Babbington – bass John Marshall – drums Theo Travis – sax, flute
Prolusion. The English combo SOFT MACHINE has been one of my most beloved jazz-fusion bands since I dug “V”, a double album that crowns their creatively most revolutionary period, 1970-’72. “Live Adventures” is their latest release, and features a ‘new’ bassist, Roy Babbington (who had previously played with Soft Machine from 1973 to 1976), as a replacement for the untimely deceased Hugh Hopper. Haven’t added ‘Legacy’ to the outfit’s name? Sorry. Call me biased or even flippant in this respect, but I’m still inclined to ignore the trailer.
Analysis. Of the nine instrumental pieces that the outing consists of, six belong to the band’s vintage work, and the others are from its most recent repertoire, all of them being newly arranged. I won’t compare these live versions to their studio counterparts, but I have to tell you that most of them are different from the originals, at times almost radically so. The CD contains three monster jazz rock pieces, two of which, The Relegation of Pluto and Facelift, are largely improvisational. Both of them begin with loose jazzy grooves, where the entire quartet plays in unison (and so on), and develop into free-jazz sections with wild guitar and sax leads at the fore – a solid jamming that never eases up, save the fact that in the finale of the latter composition we get a long and powerful drum solo. The third standout track, Grapehound, is heavy almost throughout, evoking in style as well as sound the band’s eighth album, “Bundles”. It goes through a few hard rock-inspired thematic storylines, and brings together, well, the meatiness of guitar riffs, the energy of a rhythm section (a winning combination in itself) and the impetuosity of sax improvisations. Otherwise the music is overall a lot more straightforward – compared to that on any of the band’s previous three releases, “Live in Zaandam” , “Legacy” and “Steam” , in particular. This, however, doesn’t mean it sucks (citing my inner voice: Fie, so vulgar!). Not at all, and much of it is pretty enjoyable. Created impromptu, Has Riff II is a jazz-ambient piece, emotionally dark and even sinister in places. The Last Day and Song of Aeolus are each a melodic jazz-fusion ballad with a distinct thematic axis, around which the flute and the – plaintive – guitar weave their improvisational patterns, respectively. Gesolfeut and In the Black Room are compositionally almost not unlike the above Grapehound, but are strongly lacking in edginess, as the guitar riffs are in both cases performed without using a distortion unit. Nonetheless, while overall the performance (its basic, theme-formative part, to be more precise) appears as being fairly repetitive, the combination of hard-like riffs and a clean sax jazz tone works well. All the same words are overall relevant to The Nodder as well. On the other hand, this is an extremely simple thing, basically monothematic. What saves it from falling into the category of makeweights is that the band rather frequently changes its speed – by accelerating as well as slackening pace.
Conclusion. In spite of what its title suggests (at least to me), “Live Adventures” is less adventurous than probably anything that the band has issued before. Nevertheless, this is still a fairly remarkable release in its own way, as it shows a lot of varied sides of the jazz rock style.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: November 13, 2010
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