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Soft Machine: Switzerland 1974

Glenn Astarita By

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Much has been written about this vastly influential and time-honored jazz fusion unit that skirted the avant-garde spectrum, especially when saxophone great Elton Dean was in the band, in addition to its psychedelic persuasions during the 60s. This 1974 live concert in Switzerland, features soon-to-be guitar god Allan Holdsworth's entry into the band's lineup. At this time, keyboardist Mike Ratledge loomed as the only founding member of the unit. These historic performances are supplemented by the concert footage DVD, underscored by Holdsworth's adrenaline-fueled jazz shredding. Otherwise, the ensemble was in the midst of road testing new compositions for its upcoming, 1975 Bundles release.

The initial pressing of Bundles was one of the most disappointing presentations ever, since the music itself was so damn good. The soundstage was thin and lacked detail, but the audio characteristics of this live recording are surprisingly better than adequate. Here, the ensemble operates in tenth-gear, consummated by its agility, grace and Herculean power. And Holdsworth is ablaze as his exceptional technique is prominently highlighted; offsetting the sax and keys etched melodic content, immersed in the 70s majestic and stylistic British Canterbury progressive rock and jazz scene.

Ratledge's signature jazz-based fluency on the Lowrery organ is intact, along with drumming great, John Marshall's propelling beats and sweeping polyrhythmic fills. Most of the tracks from Bundles are performed, yet the musicians raise the bar from an improvisational standpoint. However "The Floating World," tempers the flow via a dreamland-like keys ostinato, followed by bassist Roy Babbington's titanic hybrid distortion-laden and standard electric bass soloing on "Ealing Comedy."

"The Man Who Waved at Trains" outlines Ratledge's sleek and shifty lines interweaving among the gorgeous melody, leading to a swift up-tempo breakout and topped off by Karl Jenkins' blithe soprano sax phrasings, where the rhythm section is on fire throughout. Incidentally, on Marhsall's solo piece "LBO," he generates a pulsating tone poem by darting across small cymbals and executing fluent toms patterns, followed by the audience's thundering applause. Simply stated Switzerland 1974 is a vital document that breathes anew and an essential acquisition for the group's legion of fans and staunch Holdsworth disciples.

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