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Soft Machine Legacy: Live Adventures

Mark Redlefsen By

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The unique jazz-rock of Soft Machine Legacy moves into a new decade with Live Adventures (Moonjune, 2010), along with yet another new lineup, recorded live shortly after the 2009 passing of bassist Hugh Hopper. No matter how much change in personnel occurs, a very identifiable and distinct sound is maintained all around. The balance in this music—as with the original different versions of Soft Machine—has always been about having just enough jazz fusion, grounded by very rock-like rhythms, that follow stated recurring and melodic themes. Add the right amount of soloing and the resulting music is what continues to appeal to fans of cerebral instinctive instrumental music in today's jazz, rock, and jamband scenes.

John Etheridge provides the tasty guitar riffs, solos, and colors in the group. His sound is much more assertive in the mix now, and the guitarist seems to be taking more control and responsibility over the direction of the music. John Marshall's dependable drum work is the other major anchoring force in the group, filling out older songs like "Gesolreut" just as solidly now as he did decades ago. He still has the appropriately light, impressionist touch on the subtler pieces, such as the opening "Has Riff," and another revived older composition, Karl Jenkins' "Song of Aeolus."

Bassist Roy Babbington returns as the perfect and appropriate replacement, filling the void just as he did in the 1970s, when Hopper left Soft Machine. His presence also brings back the punchy fusion edge that works so well with Marshall and Etheridge now, just as it did in the previous era of a group that they shared together. He never overplays his hand, but asserts a certain amount of treble to the mix that gives off a very personal sound, somewhat different than Hopper's in tone. In tribute to Hopper, the group performs his signature song from Third (Columbia, 1970), "Facelift," at an almost dirge-like pace, respectfully honoring the memory of their late friend while adding some new twists.

Reed man Theo Travis came to the group a few years back on Steam (Moonjune, 2007), the first release after the passing of original saxophonist Elton Dean in 2006. He plays a powerful tenor sax and graceful flute on older and recent material, as well as on his own compositions like the closer, "The Last Day." Travis has apparently absorbed the historical and musical feel of Soft Machine necessary to keep the integrity of this music intact. Live Adventures provides a nice listen back to the past, along with present suggestions of even more new promising music still ahead.

Track Listing: Has Riff; Grapehound; Nodder In The Back Room; Song Of Aeolus; Relegation Of Pluto / Transit; Gesolreut; Facelift; Last Day.

Personnel: John Etheridge: electric guitar; Theo Travis: tenor and soprano sax, flute; Roy Babbington: bass guitar; John Marshall: drums.

Title: Live Adventures | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Moonjune Records

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