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Soft Machine Legacy: Burden of Proof

Glenn Astarita By

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Subsequent to its psychedelic late 60s existence, Soft Machine redeployed its musicality into a hybrid form of British prog-rock meets avant-garde jazz and jazz fusion schema. The band invoked a signature sound, partly due to keyboardist Mike Ratlledge's fuzz-toned Lowry organ performances and other prominent factors. A chief proponent of Britain's fabled Canterbury music scene, many aficionados and music historians often cite Soft Machine as one of the founding fathers of progressive, jazz- rock. In 2010 SONY Music's Legacy division released a 5-CD boxed set, containing Soft Machine's pivotal albums: Third through Seven, spanning its 1970 through 1973 reign. Moving forward, the UK-based Soft Machine Legacy skirts the perimeter, yet extends the original unit's aura, as this rendition features early members, bassist Roy Babbington and drummer John Marshall.

Burden of Proof signifies the Legacy's first studio outing since Steam (Moonjune, 2007). The album features group-penned works other than the cover of original Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper's beloved "Kings & Queens," wondrously designed via reedman Theo Travis' airy and ethereal flute lines atop Babbington's simple, yet yearning ostinato riff amid the wistfully stated melody. Hence, the musicians capture the essence of the original ensemble, but contemporize its aura with breezy atmospherics, flourishing dynamics, and perceptive use of space.

Travis doubles on the Fender Rhodes and launches the opening track "Burden of Proof" into an unflappable mid-tempo swing vamp. However, the musicians' variegate the set with dissimilar works. Therefore, asymmetrical parts jazz-fusion, capacious dreamscapes, and abstract impressionistic sojourns into the free strata propagate a good deal of interest.

Venerated guitarist John Etheridge lays it all out during his expressive solo on the bawdy blues-driven "Pie Chart," where subliminal references to the jazz standard, "Harlem Nocturne" come to mind. As the eminent frontline adds quite a bit of depth and doesn't rush to get from point A to B. But the often soaring dialogues spawn excitement and intrigue, to complement the meticulously designed unison choruses and theme reconstructions.

Marshall kicks off "The Brief" with a pounding polyrhythmic solo, elevated with massive press rolls during his recoiling duel with Travis, performing on sax; whereas, this piece segues into the pumping hard-rock motif on the aptly titled "Pump Room." Here, the quartet aligns a good-timey demeanor with devious undertones, amped by the guitarist's distortion-laced and phased-out licks, crowned with supersonic single note flurries.

Thankfully, Soft Machine Legacy isn't all about retreading the original band's repertoire. Think of a nouveau stylization that pays homage with a code of honor and respect, while surging into the new millennium as a distinct musical entity. In sum, the quartet spins a new yarn on a time-honored proving ground.

Track Listing: Burden of Proof; Voyage Beyond Seven; Kitto; Pie Chart; JSP; Kings and Queens; Fallout; Going Somewhere Canorous?; Black and Crimson; The Brief; Pump Room; Green Cubes; They Landed on a Hill.

Personnel: John Etheridge: guitars; Theo Travis: tenor saxophone, flute, Fender Rhodes piano; Roy Babbington: bass guitar; John Marshall: drums, percussion.

Title: Burden Of Proof | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Moonjune Records

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