Learn How

Help improve All About Jazz

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz needs your help and we have a deal. For $20, we'll hide those pesky Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

326

Soft Machine: Live At Henie Onstad Arts Centre 1971

Nic Jones By

Sign in to view read count
Soft Machine
Live at Henie Onstad Arts Centre 1971
Reel Recordings
2009

Here's some heady stuff from what in 2010 feels like a golden era, dubious though that notion might be in reality. There's already ample evidence that the Mike Ratledge / Elton Dean / Hugh Hopper / Robert Wyatt lineup of Soft Machine never played the same set the same way twice, and it's a tribute to the group's levels of interaction and energy that this set adds something to the retrospective view. Both of the sets rescued from oblivion on this two-CD set are continuous, although they both take in themes that the group probably performed countless times. Nothing, however, is hackneyed or overcooked.

The same can be said of the remastering. Despite a balance that's a little dodgy in places, the clarity of the audio is such that the group's collective thinking shines out with unprecedented strength, as does the fact that it possessed an identity forged from highly individual instrumental styles and sources. The magisterial wheeziness of Ratledge's Lowry organ is projected with paradoxical vividness, whilst it's also possible to hear why Wyatt's drum style might be described as an amalgam of Elvin Jones (in the sense of his hyperactivity and the level of intent that underscores it) and Charlie Watts (in the sense that he seems to play just behind the beat).

The continuous nature of both of the sets emphasises how the band—without being an improvisational outfit as such—never fundamentally repeated itself. Whilst themes such as "All White" and "Fletcher's Blemish" are here, they are merely passing points of reference for musicians and listeners alike. The group's combined effort was always greater than the sum of its parts and the precision with which the music has been restored reinforces the point. It's unlikely that any preplanned method for mutual cueing was employed, which sometimes makes the themes, when they do emerge, simply staging posts on the way to some greater nirvana. This is certainly the case in the first set, where both Ratledge and Dean are afforded the chance to solo at length, whilst Hopper and Wyatt put out that elasticity of rhythm they almost owned the patent on.

The second set reveals no reduction in the band's creativity. Although its brand of free play might seem a little aimless, particularly in the opening minutes, it's again the case that such a passage serves its purpose in the subsequent realization of something greater. At this stage in its existence, Soft Machine was firing on all cylinders. Discussion of whether this was despite or because of creative tensions within the lineup doesn't serve much purpose anymore. The shortcoming of the mix referred to above is most prominent on the second disc, with Dean on alto sax out of balance particularly with Ratledge and Hopper, although not even this really matters given the incendiary quality of the music. Mutual understanding between the players ensures that the music always has momentum even in its more reflective moments. Overall, the results are a documentation of an evening that for reasons both physical and otherwise we just might not witness the like of anymore. The moment in time is thus lifted from its context and rendered timeless.




Tracks: CD1: Intro; Facelift; Virtually; Slightly All The Time; Fletcher's Blemish. CD2: Neo-Caliban Grides; Out-Bloody-Rageous; Eammon Andrews; All White; Kings and Queens; Teeth; Pigling Bland; Noisette.



Personnel: Michael Ratledge: organ, electric piano; Elton Dean: alto saxophone, saxello, electric piano; Hugh Hopper: bass guitar, Duo-Fuzz pedal; Robert Wyatt: drums, cow bell, voice.

Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Reel Recordings | Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock


Related Video

Shop

More Articles

Read The Rolling Stones: Blue and Lonesome Extended Analysis The Rolling Stones: Blue and Lonesome
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: November 27, 2016
Read Nat Birchall: Creation Extended Analysis Nat Birchall: Creation
by Phil Barnes
Published: November 23, 2016
Read Harvey Mandel: Snake Pit Extended Analysis Harvey Mandel: Snake Pit
by Doug Collette
Published: November 19, 2016
Read Leonard Cohen: You Want it Darker Extended Analysis Leonard Cohen: You Want it Darker
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: November 13, 2016
Read King Crimson: On (and Off) The Road Extended Analysis King Crimson: On (and Off) The Road
by John Kelman
Published: November 13, 2016
Read "Ali Farka Toure with Ry Cooder: Talking Timbuktu" Extended Analysis Ali Farka Toure with Ry Cooder: Talking Timbuktu
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: May 22, 2016
Read "Michel Benita Ethics: River Silver" Extended Analysis Michel Benita Ethics: River Silver
by John Kelman
Published: February 22, 2016
Read "U.K.: Ultimate Collectors' Edition" Extended Analysis U.K.: Ultimate Collectors' Edition
by John Kelman
Published: September 25, 2016
Read "Peter Case: Peter Case" Extended Analysis Peter Case: Peter Case
by Doug Collette
Published: October 1, 2016
Read "Earl Hines: Piano Genius At Work" Extended Analysis Earl Hines: Piano Genius At Work
by Chris Mosey
Published: February 19, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Get Jazz Near You via email!

Enjoy the convenience of receiving a comprehensive listing of jazz events in your area every Thursday. It's free!