Soft Machine had played in Rotterdam several times before this 1973 show in the small theater De Lantaren. But this version of the band was relatively new. One of the earliest shows by the quartet of electric bassist Roy Babbington, Karl Jenkins (on multiple horns and electric piano), keyboardist Mike Ratledge and drummer John Marshall was documented on NDR Jazz WorkshopHamburg, Germany, May 17, 1973 (Cuneiform Records, 2010). By late October the band had become a potent live force. They drew their set list mainly from the album Six (Columbia, 1973), a double LP with one live album and one studio album, and the last with bassist Hugh Hopper. But the improvisations and jamming made it clear how comfortable they had become with the material, along with the generally faster tempos, a common occurrence when jazz players have long experience with a tune.
Ratledge's "Stanley Stamp's Gibbon Album" opens the set with minimalist pattern repetition and an odd-meter groove, driven by the composer's unbridled organ solo. Jenkins' "The Soft Weed Factor" is another track from the Six studio album which gets an energetic live performance. The abstract track "Lefty" serves as an introduction to Ratledge's grooving, ostinato-based "Gesolreut," just as it had on the album. Jenkins' "Down The Road" came from the recently released Seven (Columbia, 1973), the first album to include Babbington as a full band member.
"Ealing Comedy" is a fuzz bass feature, with Babbington exploring the full range of his Fender VI six-string bass guitar. "J.S.M." is an unaccompanied drum solo giving Marshall the spotlight. Ratledge's "Chloe and the Pirates" is the last of the Six studio album selections. It is a memorable tune featuring Jenkins on the oboe, a rare instrument in rock and jazz then and now. Jenkins' "Hazard Profile" is a preview of Bundles (Harvest, 1975), the album which first introduced the guitar into the band's sound, as well as an early appearance by the virtuosic Allan Holdsworth. This lengthy suite leads right into the freest music in the set, "Improvisation" and "Gesolreut Jam." Either the band was out of tunes, or they just felt like cutting loose. Either way, the musicians and the audience both sound as if they were having a blast.
We have Bert Boogaard (a record store owner at the time) who was sitting in the front row with an Uher portable tape machine, to thank for this album. The description may make the album sound like a low-fidelity document suitable only for hardcore fans, but this is actually an exciting performance, recorded as faithfully as any other live recordings from the era.
Stanley Stamps Gibbon Album; Between; The Soft Weed Factor; Lefty; Gesolreut; EPV; Down the Road; Ealing Comedy; 37 1/2; J.S.M.; Riff II; Chloe and the Pirates; Hazard Profile; Improvisation; Gesolreut Jam.
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