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Soft Machine: Hidden Details

Mike Jurkovic By

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From leading the psychedelic '60s charge with Pink Floyd to a more experimental, free rock/jazz stratagem that incorporated whatever sound caught its collective musical ear, Soft Machine included, over the course of nearly two decades, a colorful cast of eccentrics, like guitarists Allan Holdsworth and Andy Summers, drummer/vocalist Robert Wyatt, bassist Hugh Hopper, and fuzz organist maestro Mike Ratledge. Nearly four decades later, Soft Machine still makes a far ranging, far flung sound like no other.

Most aware of but not frightened by its history, Hidden Details reunites '70s-era Soft Machine guitarist John Etheridge, drummer John Marshall and bassist Roy Babbington with Gong flautist and sax man Theo Travis, who've been playing together as Soft Machine Legacy since Hugh Hopper passed away in 2009, dropping "Legacy" in the last year or so. The quartet goes about jaggedly sparring, stacking angular, non-linear building blocks of tortured guitar, raging drums, fuzzy, overdriven bass and untethered sax to construct the terse modality of the proclamatory title track.

The group then delicately reinvents 1975's fan favorite, "The Man Who Waved at Trains," with flute and electric piano. "Ground Lift" is a furious free-jazz blow-out, with Travis and Etheridge again letting it rip for all it's worth and Babbington and Marshall driving the frenzy like players half their age. Enticingly, the eight minutes of "Life On Bridges," is more of the same.

But to stay in one headspace has never been Soft Machine's modus operandi, so the album also includes the welcome acoustic psychedelia expressionism of Etheridge's "Heart Off Guard" and Travis' almost but not really quite pop of "Fourteen Hour Dream."

"Breathe," on an ambient bed of loops, layers and wind chimes (courtesy of Nick Utteridge), is a fitting end to a disc that began so explosively, from a band that has always traveled from here to there and back again. And how they made the journey? Only Soft Machine can tell.

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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