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Beppe Crovella: What's Rattlin' On The Moon? A Personal Vision of the Music of Mike Ratledge

John Kelman By

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For a group that's been gone nearly thirty years, Soft Machine sure has been seeing a lot of action. With remastered albums, including core classics Third (Sony, 1970) through Seven (Sony, 1973), and archival live recordings including Reel Recordings' recently earthed Live at Henie Onstad Arts Center 1971 (2009), it seems as if this legendary British group—which evolved from post-Dadaist psychedelia through free jazz to riff-centric jazz/rock—has never been more popular.

Tribute albums have begun to crop up in recent years, including Polysoft's stellar Tribute to Soft Machine Live a Le Triton 2002 (Musea, 2004) and Delta Saxophone Quartet's unusual Dedicated to You...But You Weren't Listening—The Music of Soft Machine (MoonJune, 2007). It's no surprise that MoonJune Records continues to appear regularly in matters Soft Machine; label head Leonardo Pavkovic has been instrumental in keeping the Soft Machine name alive through archival releases, in addition to spearheading the formation of Soft Works and Soft Machine Legacy, two groups that brought together former members of Soft Machine.

Pavkovic is also deeply connected to the Italian scene, and a strong advocate of Arti E Mestieri, whose First Live in Japan he released in 2007. Pavkovic has been talking about a solo keyboard project with AEM's Beppe Crovelle—whose Pianovagando (Electro Mantic, 2009) was a heartfelt recording of solo piano music—for some time. The release of What's Rattlin' On The Moon may not be a surprise, then, but Crovella's personal look at the music of Soft Machine keyboardist Mike Ratledge—all performed on analog keyboards including mellotron, various organs and electric pianos, clavinet, and grand piano—absolutely is.

Crovella takes ten well-known Ratledge Soft Machine compositions, dating as far back as "Hibou, Anemone and Bear from Volume Two (Probe, 1969) through to "The Man Who Waved at Trains" from Bundles (Harvest, 1975) (Ratledge's final album as a group member), and filters them through a distinctive prism that, at times, is the stuff of nightmares. The weighty riff that drives "Tarabos" remains intact, but is surrounded by swirling mellotron chords reminiscent of "Devil's Triangle," from King Crimson's In the Wake of Poseidon (DGM Live, 1970).

Some songs are easily identified but others, as in Crovella's sonically layered "All White" from Fifth (Sony, 1972), are nearly unrecognizable; more a source of inspiration than one of direct reference. In almost every case, even when Crovella lifts a defining marker of a tune, as he does on Fifth's brooding "As If," he goes places Ratledge would never have imagined. Lyrical but free jazz pianism on "All White" crosses paths with near anarchy on "Hibou, Anemone and Bear," bluesy posturing on "Out-Bloody-Rageous" and more defined pulse on "Pig."

Crovella closes the album with 15 minutes of original compositions inspired by Ratledge. Within a similar context of dense keyboard colors, they fit in perfectly with the Soft Machine keyboardist's writing, making What's Rattlin' On The Moon an album of both direct homage and lovingly inspired new music that actually surpasses Delta Saxophone Quartet's disc as the most oblique Soft Machine tribute to date.

Track Listing: Rattlin' All The Time: Tarabos; Chloe And The Pirates; All White; The Man Who Waved At Trains; As If; Hibou, Anemone And Bear; Out-Bloody-Rageous; Pig; Esther's Nose Job; Slightly All The Time. ...Before the Moon: Leonardo's E-Mail; Moonvisions; Many Moons, Many Junes. ...after the Moon: Lunar Impression; Circular Loines In The Air; Moon Geezers (to Elton & Hugh).

Personnel: Beppe Crovella: mellotron, Wurlitzer E200 electric piano, Fender Rhodes Stage 73 electric piano; Hammond Organ M102, Hohner electric piano, Hohner Clavinet D6, Rösler Grand Piano, Farfisa Professional.

Title: What's Rattlin' On The Moon? A Personal Vision of the Music of Mike Ratledge | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Moonjune Records


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