Matching Mole may have lasted just under a year when it surfaced 35 years ago, but public interest in drummer/vocalist Robert Wyatt's first post-Soft Machine project continues to be strong. On the Radio
isn't the first archival live release, and nearly three-quarters of the material was previously available, but only for a short time. This remastered reissue of five BBC Radio studio and live dates features significantly improved sound, but what sets it apart from the earlier Windsong BBC release is the previously unavailable twenty-minute medley that opens this 78-minute disc.
Matching Mole began as a solo project for Wyatt. But the chemistry that emerged with pianist David MacRae, guitarist Phil Miller, bassist Bill MacCormick and organist Dave Sinclair (who left after the first album and appears on only two dates here) quickly turned it into a group effort.
Matching Mole and Little Red Record, both released by Columbia in 1972, may have been good, but this band was best experienced live. While only a third of these radio recordings were recorded in concert in front of an audience, the studio sessions were "live off the floor, with the same energy and excitement that's missing on the group's studio albums.
Wyatt left Soft Machine because of the band's shift from song form towards a mix of detailed composition and open-ended improvisation. While it sounds nothing like Soft Machine, Matching Mole did place a similar emphasis on improvisation. No two versions of a tune ever sounded the same, making any duplication here revealing, rather than superfluous. Even the way the group would segue from one song to the next varied from night to night.
Despite the group's loose approach to interpretation, there's a stronger sense of melodylyricism, evencompared to the Soft Machine of the same period. Miller was already a distinctive player, with a keen ear for finding unexpected ways to weave through the material. Like Miller, MacRae was consistently intriguing yet never self-indulgent. Wyattwhose career behind the kit would be cut short not long after he dissolved the group when an accident left him paralyzed from the waist downmay have gravitated to song form, but he was a loose and subtly responsive drummer. The biggest surprise about MacCormick is that he'd only been playing bass for eighteen months before joining the group.
The sound quality varies, despite Hux's fine remastering job. The opening twenty minutes are the best sonically, but even the lower-fidelity tracks are clear and easy on the ears. There's not a single track on this record that hasn't appeared elsewhere in a different form. But On the Radio is the best album to date from this short-lived but influential group, a band that ranged from elegant understatement to sheer power.
Personnel: Bill MacCormick: bass, fuzz pedal; Dave MacRae: Fender Rhodes, wah-wah pedal; Phil Miller: guitar, effects
pedals; Dave Sinclair: Hammond organ (2,5); Robert Wyatt; drums, vocals, echoplex.