Four legendary old friends reunite here to dig deeply into new material. On first listen it seems the energy level doesn't rise about a simmer much of the time, though Allan Holdsworth does kick things up a notch now and then. But repeated listens reveal the multiple layers of what is going on here, reminding us of what Soft Machine was once all about. The four men are older, wiser, more thoughtful and perhaps more analytical than when they first set to breaking ground in the 1960s. After a while it becomes evident that Soft Works is more than the sum of the four old men in the booklet photo.
Elton Dean remains his sinuous self for the most part, wrapping his alto and saxello around the rhythmic matrix like a python. On Hugh Hopper's "First Trane" the bassist and drummer John Marshall set up a slow, stalking riff over which Dean slithers deliciously. Holdsworth emerges later, interjecting pads from the Synthaxe like pieces of a puzzle which Dean must solve. On "K Licks" the guitarist, turned acidic this time, and Dean twist and parry through dense unison lines, and the band gets downright funky on "Willie's Knee" with Dean switching to the electric piano. Holdsworth gets to shred big-time on the closer, "Madame Vintage," and Marshall easily keeps pace with him with a ip-roaring sidelong improvisation.
Soft Works is, by and large, a different animal from Soft Machine and its other predecessors. That aside, it's an exceptionally well thought out project featuring four veterans who know each other's moods and expectations intuitively. It should be especially appealing to Holdsworth's current fans, given the prevalence of the Synthaxe as a coloring tool. Recommended.