Although this is a program consisting predominantly of music written by (now) ex-members of Soft Machine, the line taken is about as far from repertory as possible. It amounts to a rethinking of music that was nearly always distinctive. The approach here ensures that it ends up only more so, and not simply because a saxophone quartet is some kind of polar opposite to how that band rendered the music.
The fact that the music is able to withstand such scrutiny is no small testimony, and when the quartet is joined by bassist Hugh Hoppera stalwart of the most worthwhile Soft Machine lineups some thirty-odd years agoon his "Facelift, all sorts of new musical vistas open up, not the least of them being the notion of the piece as an example of chamber music of an idiosyncratic order.
"Mousetrap, also from Hopper's pen, has always been a piece that emphasizes his distinctive melodic sense. The fact that it's taken in such an unadorned fashion here allows the melody to breathe whilst the horns collectively have a ball with it, their empathy as a unit really coming to the fore in the way they seem to phrase as one, the individual selflessly serving the needs of the collective.
Both the group and Hopper the composer reveal much of themselves on the ineffably lovely "Everything Is You, and again the idea of rarefied chamber music springs to mind. In his solo, soprano saxophonist Graeme Blevins seems also to have absorbed a lesson from the composer in the sense that he never uses two notes when one will do. The effect overall is moving without being mawkish, and that's something that's all too rare these days.
This group's reading of Karl Jenkins' "Aubade is out of necessity given the kind of pared-down reading it would never have received in the hands of any of Soft Machine's later overtly fusion-oriented lineups. Again, the impression is of how lovely an essentially simple, unassuming melody can be. It's further emphasized by Hopper's "Dedicated To You, that also has the effect of underscoring how melancholically English a lot of that man's melodies are, even when one disregards the potentially contentious issue of national identity in music.
Given the instrumental lineup here this could have ended up as a soporific exercise. The fact that it doesn't is tribute not only to the musicians involved but also the composers. As such it amounts to a potent case for musical reinvestigation as a valid artistic exercise.
Track Listing: Dedicated; Facelift; Somehow With the Passage of Time...Kings & Queens 33 Years Later; Mousetrap; Everything is You; To; Outrageous Moon; Aubade; Noisette; Floating World; You; The Tale of Taliesin; Dedicated to You; Epilogue.
Personnel: Graeme Blevins: soprano saxophone; Chris Caldwell: baritone saxophone; Tim Holmes: tenor saxophone; Pete Whyman: alto saxophone; Hugh Hopper: electric bass guitar and loops (2); Morgan Fisher: vocals, hurdy gurdy and background electronics (7).
Title: Dedicated to You...But You Weren't Listening - The Music of Soft Machine
| Year Released: 2007
| Record Label: Moonjune Records