Soft Machine Legacy: Live Adventures (2010)
With Hugh Hopper's death in 2009, Soft Machine Legacy lost its last link with the classic Soft Machine lineups that recorded its most potent music. What is here, then, is a band which pledges allegiance to the relatively straightforward fusion period of the band's history.
Once that's clarified, however, it's still a fact that this is no mere exercise in repertory. This quartet takes the music in directions that the fusion-era band would perhaps never have countenanced, and nowhere is this clearer than on the opening "Has Riff II." Credited as a group composition, it is, in its way, as singular as anything from the days when the band wasn't playing the same set the same way twice.
Guitarist John Etheridge's "Grapehound" echoes Karl Jenkins's way with a cyclical riff, and is consequently more evocative of Soft Machine's fusion era, especially when the composer's solo consists of the hyperactive runs that are a hallmark of his work. In contrast to Hopper, Roy Babbington is a more conventional bass guitarist. Nowhere is the difference between the two mens' approaches more evident than in their note choices. On Jenkins's "The Nodder," Babbington takes a back seat role, emphasizing the riff's integral part of Jenkins's compositional methodology.
The same composer's "Song of Aeolus" gets as close to funky as anything here, but does, at least, prove that the bass-drums cartel of Babbington and John Marshall can nail a groove with the best of them. There's also a certain restraint in the group's collective approach to dynamics, affording the music a chance to breathe. Etheridge's deft solo also shows how he can vary his approach, as might be expected from such a professional.
Hopper's "Facelift" is taken with a similar level of restraint, especially pertinent in view of the circumstances. Theo Travis, on tenor sax, proves what a fertile improviser he can be, and the quartet as a whole proves appreciative of Hopper's compositional quirks. This is manifested in the sheer openness of the music, which by comparison with the band's apparently more customary approach shows how its collective take on fusion isn't necessarily a matter of little more than technocratic flash. The segue into Travis' "The Last Day," with the composer on flute, is a seamless underscoring of the same point.
Track Listing: Has Riff II; Grapehound; The Nodder; In The Back Room; Song of Aeolus; The Relegation of Pluto / Transit; Gesolreut; Facelift; The Last Day.
Personnel: Theo Travis: tenor sax, flute; John Etheridge: guitar; Roy Babbington: bass; John Marshall: drums.
Record Label: Moonjune Records