Soft Machine Legacy: New Morning--The Paris Concert
But what exactly does Soft Machine Legacy mean? Even when the original band became guitar-centric in the mid-1970s, keyboards were a large part of the overall sound, and while Dean plays the occasional Fender Rhodes with both Soft Works and Soft Machine Legacy, the complexion of the band bears little, if any, resemblance to the Soft Machine of old. But what is clear is that Soft Machine Legacy is about improvisation in an electric contexta sentiment echoed by Etheridge in the twenty-minute interview segment that's a welcome bonus feature on the DVD.
The bonus interview footage is revealing, as every member of the band reflects on what it was like to be in Soft Machine and, ultimately, what it has meant to their careers and the formation of Soft Machine Legacy.
But it's the concert footage that's the meat of the DVD, and while Soft Machine Legacy revisits the occasional song from the Soft Machine repertoirein the case of New Morning a version of Hopper's brooding "Kings & Queens from Fourth and a reworked version of "As If" from Five retitled "Has Riff," based on the song's main riff but minus the main themeit bears little resemblance to the texture or approach of the original. This is no tribute band. The material is a mix of post-Softs material by band membersDean's riff-based 7/4 "Seven for Lee has been recorded a number of times under titles close to, but not always exactly the same, as the one used here. Etheridge contributes "Kite Runner, the most overtly rocking song of the set, as well as the gentler, more lyrical encore, "Strange Comfort.
For fans of any one of these players the DVD is essential; for those who have followed more than one, it's like manna from heaven. Dean alternates between his slightly curved cousin to the soprano sax, the saxello, alto saxophone and Fender Rhodes. What's perhaps most remarkable about Dean's performance is how he is able to bring an almost reckless abandon to even the most structured of songs. The majority of the material on New Morning is based on heads that open up into more open-ended soloing over leading vamps, but Dean's earsalong with the rest of the group'sare big indeed, and while some of the vamps presented would become boring in the hands of lesser players, Soft Machine Legacy keeps things consistently interesting throughout.
Hopper is the solid rock that keeps things focused, although he occasional leaps to the forefront with his signature fuzz tone. Marshallperhaps the most versatile member of the quartet, having gone on to play on more rarefied ECM recordings with artists including Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen, Greek pianist Vassilis Tsaboropoulos and German bassist Eberhard Weberremains a remarkable force of nature. Fluid, powerful and liberal, he's still capable of laying down a strong backbeat when required, as he does on Etheridge's "Ash and "Kite Runner. But equally he's loose and responsive throughout.
The biggest surprise is Etheridge, if only because, after his brief tenure with Softs, he tended to fall off the radar at an international level. He's hardly been silent, however, releasing albums that range from his fusion band with violinist Ric Sanders to his Zappatistas group, which puts its own spin on the music of Frank Zappa, and his remarkable solo record, I Didn't Know (Dyad, 2004). Holdsworth may have gone on to greater acclaim as a truly groundbreaking guitarist, but in the final analysis what Etheridge brings to the table is a more cosmopolitan style that incorporates a more recognizable jazz-centricity, imaginative use of effects including Frisell-like looping and a lithe and rapid-fire capability that is certainly the equal of Holdsworth. Most importantly though, what he brings to Soft Machine Legacy that makes it altogether more satisfying than Soft Works is an energy that demonstrates he's not averse to taking risks.
It's this avoidance of playing it safe that makes Soft Machine Legacy's nearly two-hour performance so engrossing. Mistakes are madethere are moments where Etheridge seems to lose sight of the time. But jazzeven the jazz/rock varietyshould be about risk, and while Etheridge doesn't have the same recognition factor as Holdsworth, as revolutionary as Holdsworth has become, Etheridge has evolved into a far more exciting and visceral player.
With Etheridge the youngest of the bunch at 58, the other thing that's clear about Soft Machine Legacy is that time has not diminished the players' ability to kick some serious butt, though they're seasoned enough to know that dynamics are what carry a show, and New Morning traverses considerable territory.