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Soft & Cool
on 8 May 2007
It's good that the original classic Soft Machine CBS albums are getting a definitive remaster/upgraded reissue. I guess everyone will go for the well known volumes 3 to 5 (which feature additional bonus tracks) but what of "Six"? For most people the departure of Robert Wyatt and Elton Dean was the end of the story and it is often forgotten that there was a distinctive late edition of the band in 72-74, exemplified by "Six" & featuring regulars Ratledge and Hopper joined by drummer John Marshall and multi-instrumentalist Karl Jenkins.
"Six" was a double album - in the vogue of the time one disc live / one disc studio, all included on a single CD here (no bonus tracks). Arguably this was the most musically accomplished version of the band. The live album is one long suite, effortlessly gliding back and forth through tunes and themes (mostly drawn from "FIFTH"). It's very tight and fluid, driven by understated, shifting funk or rock rhythmic patterns. The studio album contains just four tracks. "Sot Weed Factor" and "Chloe" are developments out of the languorous style pioneered on "THIRD": Terry Riley-ish loops, loping repetitive funk drum and bass, tinkling keyboards. Jenkins generally eschews jazzy improv, preferring to overlay the tracks with elegant, repetitive, extended lines on oboe or soprano. They are over-used words but I'd have to describe this music as "minimalist" & "cool". It's a far cry from the hyperactive fusion music of the 70s and might even prefigure some of the ambient, trance and trip-hop of the 90s.The other two studio tracks sound like sketches for compositions and don't stand up so well, though Hugh Hopper fans may be interested in his abrasive tape loop piece "1983" as a precursor to some of his solo work.