Soft Machine: BBC in Concert 1971 and BBC in Concert 1972

Andrey Henkin By

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Soft Machine
BBC in Concert 1971

Soft Machine
BBC in Concert 1972

These two archival releases of Soft Machine in varying lineups reveal a seminal band in flux and act as a prism into the development of jazz-influenced rock in the '70s.

After four albums, Soft Machine's lineup had stabilized to the classic version most people know and love. After dabbling with pyschedelia and Canterbury styles, the addition of Elton Dean on reeds pushed the band firmly in the direction of a jazz-rock in many ways more ambitious in scope than American counterparts (Soft Machine really established what would make Weather Report much more famous). But by the time of this earlier BBC broadcast, the group's creative solidity had wore away, as Dean's jazz inclinations were at odds with drummer Robert Wyatt's songwriter tendencies. This performance is a rare case of a band changing forms all at once for a live audience. Beginning with Dean's quintet of the time, then folding in the remainder of the Softs quartet and then summing up with an allstar blowout of expected folks (Marc Charig, Roy Babbington, et. al.) and oddly enough Ronnie Scott, the Soft Machine that triumphed with the albums Third and Fourth was essentially buried. What would remain would go on to make less impressive albums like Fifth and Six before continuing to shed original members and generally decline in quality.

That post-Fourth lineup (organist Mike Ratledge and fuzz bass wonder Hugh Hopper from the original band matched against new members drummer John Marshall and reedman Karl Jenkins) reflect another turn in the development of jazz rock, as is apparent on the 1972 BBC broadcast. Jenkins and Marshall came out of Nucleus, a much more Miles Davis-derivative fusion band. Recorded shortly before Six, the grand sweep, almost so grand as to overwhelm, of earlier albums and songs was gone, replaced by the vamp-heavy composing found in post-1972 fusion, Nucleus included. The mix of Ratledge and Hopper's wondrous sounds with Marshall and Jenkins' more pedestrian playing still has lots of life in it, particularly when addressing earlier material but does make the 1971 album more of a wake than a celebration.

Tracks and Personnel

BBC Live in Concert 1971

Tracks: John Peel introduction; Blind Badger; Neo-Caliban Grides; Out Bloody Rageous (excerpt) Eamonn Andrews All White Kings and Queens Teeth Pigling Bland 10.30 Returns to the Bedroom; Slightly All The Time (excerpt)/Noisette.

Personnel: Mark Charig: trumpet; Elton Dean: saxophones; Phil Howard: drums; Mike Ratledge: organ; Neville Whitehead: bass; Hugh Hopper: bass; Robert Wyatt: drums; Roy Babbington: bass; Paul Nieman: trombone; Ronnie Scott: sax.

BBC Live in Concert 1972

Tracks: Fanfare; All White; Slightly All The Time; MC; Drop; Stumble; One Across; As If; Riff; Gesolreut

Personnel: Hugh Hopper: bass; Karl Jenkins: reeds; John Marshall: drums; Mike Ratledge: organ.


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