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First Division Instrumental Fusion From Master Musicians,
This review is from: Softs (Audio CD)
"Groups exist for the use of musicians" so said drummer Bill Bruford. I think that this statement applies here. Much is made of Mike Ratledge literally fading away from the group during these sessions thus effectively leaving the Soft Machine to a whole bunch of non-original members. This has no trace of the wit and wisdom of the Robert Wyatt years, or the edgy experimentalism of the mid-period band with Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean alongside Ratledge's patent organ soloing.
It does however, continue the shift towards the first class compositional and instrumental intensity delivered on it's predecessor `Bundles'. Keyboard and Reeds man Karl Jenkins is now the driving force, and (Allan Holdsworth recommended) guitarist John Etheridge takes the music to a new intensity and ferocity ably supported by the stunning drumming prowess of John Marshall. There are contrasting slower melodic passages, and time shifts, making this a thoroughly well assembled and captivating suite of compositions.
This album is often seen as the beginning of the end for the Softs, but fresh listening to this beautifully recorded and newly remastered re-issue on Esoteric reveals much to admire and plenty to enjoy in terms of breathtaking musicianship.
In truth the album becomes a little fragmentary towards the end, but the first two thirds of its duration is a tour de force of energy and propulsive Mahavishnu style intensity, contrasted with Jenkins' strong compositional abilities on the softer passages. `The Tale Of Taliesin' and `Ban Ban Caliban' in particular represent British musicianship at it's finest, while `Song Of Aeolus' occupies the melodic territory of the likes of contemporaries Focus and Camel.
Forget the name and the associations of old, and enjoy the fact that the musicians gathered here were at the height of their creativity. Recorded at Abbey Road under the auspices of engineer John Leckie, instrumental music never sounded so good.