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Soft Machine Legacy: Steam

Glenn Astarita By

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This ensemble's birthright continues via numerous personnel changes over the years as its longstanding members—bassist Hugh Hopper and drummer John Marshall—carry the proverbial torch. With sax great Elton Dean's passing in 2006, Soft Machine Legacy has regrouped and surged onward. Regardless, this effort looms as a milestone of sorts.

Multi-woodwind ace Theo Travis' presence looms mightily here, especially when mixing it up with legendary guitar virtuoso John Etheridge. One of the underlying factors on this release pertains to the quartet's divergent and angular mode of attack. It's uncluttered jazz-fusion, where space and depth are used as part of their arsenal amid numerous thematic reconstruction forays. Besides the improvisational aspects, the band's fabled infusion of whimsical Canterbury-era melodies remains intact. The musicians attain a happy medium that combines memorable hooks with tricky time signatures and killer riffing.

On "The Big Man, Marshall's polyrhythmic, African tom-tom patterns generate the underbelly for the soloists' psychedelic jazz/rock-like extrapolations. Travis and Etheridge perform with a vengeance throughout the disc, combining spacey elements with garrulous soloing maneuvers, while forging a group sound that generates a multi-textural scope. Combining punchy backbeats and complex jazz-based unison runs, the artists cover a wide-ranging musical vista.

Travis' whirling flute phrasings elicit notions of Jethro Tull flautist/front-man Ian Anderson to complement a mainstream jazz vibe on "Firefly. Moving forward, Travis subsequently employs soprano sax to ride atop Hopper's monster bass lines, where Marshall raises the bar during his extended, tour de force solo. Meanwhile, on "Dave Acto, Etheridge goes for the slam-dunk with ringing harmonics and lightning fast licks.

Sparks were unequivocally flying all over Colosseum drummer Jon Hiseman's studio when Steam was recorded over three days in December 2006.


Track Listing: Footloose; The Steamer; The Big Man; Chloe & The Pirates; In The Back Room; The Last Day; Firefly; So English; Dave Acto; Anything To Anywhere.

Personnel: John Etheridge: electric guitar; Hugh Hopper: bass guitar, loops; John Marshall: drums, percussion; Theo Travis: tenor & soprano sax, flute, loops.

Title: Steam | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Moonjune Records

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