Monday, April 29, 2013

Soft Machine - Third and Four (CBS 1970-1971)

I picked up the Original Album Classics compilation which covers Soft Machine's albums Third through Seven, or roughly 1970-1974 of this mercurial band's career. Third is a complete sea change from the two albums that preceded it. Where Volume One and Two worked within the pop song format in a fractured manner, Third dispenses with that notion entirely, instead consisting of four 18 minute plus improvisation/jams, only one of which has any vocal content at all. The the core of this continuously changing group was Mike Ratledge on keyboards, Robert Wyatt on drums, Hugh Hopper on bass and Elton Dean on saxophone with a few guests sitting in. The songs are quite daring for the time period, melding jazz sounds of Miles Davis and Ian Carr’s Nucleus with progressive rock. The marriage may seem to be a shotgun one, but it works. On “Facelift,” studio techniques are used to manipulate the sound, grafting the music together as Teo Macero would do with Davis. Swirling organ is the key to this, but tape manipulating can give it an otherworldly feel. Robert Wyatt’s last vocal with the group is “Moon in June” a typically stream of consciousness lyrical exercise that weaves in and out of the musical texture. Four simmers the music down into more digestible chunks. Now completely devoid of vocals, the group has firmly nailed it’s jazz fusion flag to the mast. “Teeth” is the longest tune at about nine minutes, developing episodically like parts of Third while allowing for some neat horn arrangements. “Fletcher’s Blemish” moves into free jazz territory, developing intense interplay among the musicians in a collective improvisation. Side two of the original LP features a four part suite by Hopper “Virtually 1-4” which does drift into navel gazing music at times, gradually fading out analogously to “In A Silent Way.”

Send comments to Tim.