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Soft Machine: Hidden Details

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Hidden Details celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of Soft Machine's 1968 eponymous debut, a seismic event in the British psychedelic, jazz and rock music landscapes that still reverbates as the Canterbury scene/sound. This anniversary studio celebration also brought about Soft Machine's first tour of North America since 1974, with several 2018 shows featuring Gary Husband as guest performer on either drums or keyboards.

First assembled in 1966, Soft Machine has become a landmark British (if not global) progressive musical institution, and was among the first groups to explore the intersections of progressive jazz and progressive rock and there discover their unique style and sound. Even the name Soft Machine wonderfully describes the power of their exploratory vision and bluesy, warm familiarity of their sound sustained through various incarnations that included Elton Dean, Andy Summers (Jazz Police), Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen (Gong), Robert Wyatt and Allan Holdsworth.

Thanks to guitarist John Etheridge, the gnarled and moody "Broken Hill" suggests (but doesn't emulate) Led Zeppelin's funky blues crunch; but peel the jazz horns off the top of "One Glove" and the remaining guitar trio kicks out bluesy Led Zeppelin funk circa Houses of the Holy (1973, Atlantic) or Presence (1976, SwanSong).

Other tunes pull your ears most insistently into jazz. Even when Travis jumps into "One Glove," his blazing saxophone locks down tight yet plays loose with the band; with Marshall swinging more and more jazz into his rock beat, the collective sound moves like Eddie Harris grooving in a Traffic jam.

Travis drives deep into the Eastern edges of his saxophone lines in "Out Bloody Rageous, Part 1," introducing the sound of Yusef Lateef into their jazzy jamming. (Travis' pliant electronic keyboard grows small notes into a ripple into a cascading stream for his lovely, evocative "Out Bloody Intro.") Compressed into less than seven minutes, "Fourteen Hour Dream" plows and tends a broad field of progressive rock, with the bass harmonically groaning underneath Travis' trippy flute and the sparkle on Etheridge's guitar winking at David Gilmour's transcendent, electric Pink Floyd blues.

The spacious and twinkling "Breathe" closes Hidden Details with five minutes of contemplative innervision that steers the ethereal instrumental opening to the Floyd's Wish You Were Here (Columbia, 1975) into the direction of Steve Hillage's ambient inner-/outer-space masterpiece Rainbow Dome Musick (Virgin, 1979).

Track Listing: Hidden Details; The Man Who Waved at Trains; Ground Lift; Heart Off Guard; Broken Hill; Flight of the Jett; One Glove; Out Bloody Intro; Out Bloody Rageous (Part 1); Drifting White; Life on Bridges; Fourteen Hour Dream; Breathe; Night Sky (bonus).

Personnel: John Etheridge: electric and acoustic guitars; Theo Travis: tenor and soprano saxophones, flutes, Fender Rhodes piano; Roy Babbington: bass guitar; John Marshall: drums, percussion; Nick Utteridge: wind chimes (13).

Title: Hidden Details | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: MoonJune Records

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