Live At The Baked Potato was recorded in Los Angeles in 2019 as part of Soft Machine's 50th Anniversary Tour. (Fact check: 2019 was the band's 53rd and this lineup's fourth anniversary). The latest album is a lot of fun even though it bears little resemblance to the music of the revolutionary 1966 -1969 lineups featuring Mike Ratledge on keyboards and flute, Robert Wyatt on drums and vocals, Kevin Ayers on guitar, bass guitar and vocals, Daevid Allen on guitar and vocals, and, from late 1968, Hugh Hopper on guitar, bass guitar and saxophone. Each member of the original lineup was also heard on acid.
First, the band... This is the 22nd Soft Machine lineup (give or take). It has released one previous album, Hidden Details (Dyad, 2018), on which eight of the twelve tunes on Live At The Baked Potato also appeared. None of the four current band members were part of the first ten (19661971) lineups. Drummer John Marshall, bass guitarist Roy Babbington and guitarist John Etheridge each joined during the early to mid 1970s. The newest recruit, saxophonist and keyboardist Theo Travis, joined in 2015, though he was in Soft Machine Legacy from 20062009. But let us save the dozen or so spin-off bands with Soft in their names for another fact fest.
Next, the album... Given Soft Machine's history, there is no reason why the 2020 lineup should sound anything like the 1966-1969 ones, which were intensely and quirkily trippy. And if it did sound like them, it would in all likelihood be a copyist / revivalist outfit flogging a dead mojo. Live At The Baked Potato, on the other hand, has life aplenty and is riotously enjoyable. The band is hardwired, improvisation is high-calibre, and the music rocks out. The disc moves across a variety of moods and atmospheres during its one-hour playing time but the take-home impression is one of grit and riffs. Around half the tunes are band classics written by Mike Ratledge, Hugh Hopper and keyboardist and saxophonist Karl Jenkins, who joined in 1972. The new material is mostly written by John Etheridge and Theo Travis.
A trip down memory lane. Sort of.
Out-Bloody-Intro; Out-Bloody-Rageous; Sideburn; Hazard Profile; Kings And Queens; The Tale Of Taliesin; Heart Off Guard; Broken Hill; Fourteen Hour Dream; The Man Who Waved At Trains; Life On Bridges; Hidden Details.
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.