Soft Machine: Hidden Details

From its formation in the heady days of the 1960s to its final dissolution about 15 years later, Soft Machine rarely stayed in one place for long.  The British band’s journey through technicolor psychedelia, meaty jazz-rock and idiosyncratic jazz fusion (equal parts Mahavishnu Orchestra, Terry Riley and Jimmy Webb) took shape on the fly, in a blur of live gigs and album sessions — along with multiple personnel changes following founding drummer Robert Wyatt’s departure.  At the end, changes came so fast that the final album of the original discography, 1981’s Land of Cockayne, was Soft Machine in name only — effectively the first solo effort by composer/keyboardist Karl Jenkins, foreshadowing his eventual emergence as a classical crossover star (and a knight of the British Empire).

But starting in 2002, the persistence, dedication and improvisational spirit of MoonJune Records impresario Leonardo Pavkovic accomplished the extraordinary — bringing together Soft Machine alumni from across multiple incarnations, first as Soft Works, then in a long-running series of tours and albums as Soft Machine Legacy.  2015 brought about the resumption of the original band name, with the group consisting of 1970s Softs John Etheridge (guitar), Roy Babbington (bass) and John Marshall (drums), joined since 2006 by prolific saxist/flutist/keyboardist Theo Travis.  Hidden Details is their sterling new album, released to coincide with a worldwide 50th anniversary tour.  It’s an impressive addition to the Soft Machine canon; there’s fresh, exploratory depth throughout, coupled with the immediate appeal of fine players enjoying both each other’s company and the exquisite music they’re making.

soft machine band shot

The tracks on Hidden Details span a broad range of genre and style: there’s driving slowburn riff rock (Travis’ title track), thick chunky funk (Etheridge’s “One Glove”), even a sprightly pop groove with a psychedelic lilt (Travis’ “Fourteen Hour Dream,” complete with 1968 title reference).  True to previous Legacy efforts, the band revisits vintage Softs classics, too; Mike Ratledge’s “Out-Bloody-Rageous” from Third features exuberant soloing by Travis, one-man horn section licks from Etheridge and plenty of steam in the engine room courtesy of Babbington and Marshall.  Also present and correct: Ratledge’s “The Man Who Waved at Trains” from Bundles, updating original elements like Babbington’s hypnotic, cyclical bass and Travis’ reimagined take on Ratledge’s electric piano ‘cosmic tinkles’.

Even more exciting than the great tunes is the way the band works together throughout this album; tight but loose, the Softs listen to and play off each other in unexpected, delightful ways.  Travis is equally at ease trading thick piano stabs with snarling Etheridge guitar on “Broken Hill,” saxing it up over a stutterstep Babbington riff during “Ground Lift,” and weaving flute-based loops punctuated by Marshall for the closing duet “Breathe.”  Etheridge runs a gamut of sounds and styles as well, from the lyrical semi-acoustic arpeggios on “Heart Off Guard” and “Drifting White” to the full-on electrified power of “Flight of the Jett” and “Hidden Details” (complemented by Babbington’s nods to Hugh Hopper’s ground-shaking fuzz bass). And when the quartet builds music from silence — joining in one at a time on “Ground Lift” or engaging each other simultaneously on the epic free blow “Life on Bridges” — the results are extraordinary.

So the 2018 incarnation of Soft Machine has nothing to prove; for all with ears to hear, they bring their experience, confidence and musicality to bear on Hidden Details, and the results really are superb.  It’s a winning album, great material for these Softs to bring to North American and British audiences this fall — in the US, for the first time in more than forty years!  Check out the new album on Bandcamp for yourself, and don’t hesitate to catch them live.

— Rick Krueger

 

 

White Willow, Future Hopes

by Rick Krueger

The only White Willow album I’d heard before their new effort was 2011’s doomy Terminal Twilight.  Gorgeous, Gothic stuff, but it didn’t leap out at me as anything special.  Future Hopes, however, is a gripping album, unpretentious in presentation (Roger Dean cover notwithstanding) but wonderfully ambitious in scope and sonics.  It starts in darkness, then doggedly journeys toward the light — and it carried me along from beginning to end. Continue reading “White Willow, Future Hopes”

Let me bring you strings from the crypt

JT1

Jethro Tull: The String Quartets

 

No stranger to classical arrangements and the fuller sound that an orchestra or string quartet can bring to his music, former Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson and long term collaborator John O’Hara having seen the Carducci Quartet decided to get together with them and rearrange a selection of classic Tull songs for string quartet, with Ian Andersons instantly recognisable flute weaving through some of the tracks, and John O’Hara playing piano on a couple of them, Ian even adds his distinctive vocals to a few of the tracks as well.

JT2With the striking artwork this splendid addition to the canon is released on 24th March.

Some of you out there might think that releasing an album of old material slightly rearranged is a holding exercise (or a cynical exploitation exercise), after all Ian’s last album Homo Erraticus was released in 2014, and whilst he’s taken his Ian Anderson/ Jethro Tull live show on the road, there’s been no new material since then.

Continue reading “Let me bring you strings from the crypt”

When I’m not cleaning windows: the joy of being in a part-time band

This piece in the New Statesman, from Scritti Politti’s Rhodri Marsden, will resonate for prog musicians everywhere – and for prog fans too, I guess.

There’s some really good stuff in here, particularly on the idea of ‘small but sustainable’, on the economic pressures favouring “solo projects with computers and acoustic guitars”, and on the role played by fortunate personal circumstances (the “Mumford & Sons route to success”), but I was particularly taken by the following amusing quote, from Tommy Shotton, former drummer of Do Me Bad:

We were among the last crop of bands who took advantage of an industry that had money to throw around… The label seemed to think that it validated their investment if we agreed to travel around in a funny taxi with flowers and magazines in the back. There was a lot of ‘Oh, give the artists space to be artists’ – but all we were doing was sitting about, arguing about the sound of a cowbell while eating free doughnuts.

In Mourning – Afterglow – Album Review

Artist: In Mourning Album Title: Afterglow Label: Agonia Records Date Of Release: 20 May 2016 In Mourning is a name that that have flitted around the very edges of my consciousness for a few years now. ‘Afterglow’ however, takes the Swedish quintet out of my personal periphery and re-positions them at the very forefront of […]

https://manofmuchmetal.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/in-mourning-afterglow-album-review/

Day 1 of Seven Musical Memories: Infancy

My great friend, Tobbe Janson​, asked that I offer seven days of music-related memories. Thank you, Tobbe. Let the nostalgia begin.

Even earlier than my actual memory allows, I used to crawl out of my crib in the middle of the night. Sometimes, I was rather dangerous. My mom and two older brothers remember with much horror the one night that I had crawled onto the stovetop, lighting all the burners to full. When they heard me screaming, they ran down to find me standing in the middle of the stovetop. Amazingly, I stood perfectly in the middle, unharmed.

Usually, though, my 3 in the morning explorations were just plain mischievous. As far as I know, there was never a time in our house that we didn’t have music. Classical, jazz, musicals, rock. All was acceptable. Born in late 1960s, I became rather obsessed with two records. Frequently, I crawled out of the crib, descended downstairs, and put one of my two favorite singles on the stereo system. I’d not only figured out how to play records before I could walk, I knew how to blare the records at full volume, waking up my family. Most likely, I awoke several neighbors in my hometown of Great Bend, Kansas, as well. Our stereo went to 11.

The two songs: the Banana Splits Theme and Snoopy and the Red Barron.

Have Yourself a Merry Christmas

Well, it seems a little early to talk about Christmas.  But, not about Christmas music!  As we get close to Advent (begins this Sunday) and prepare for Christmas and the holiday season, you have a lot of wonderful offerings from the music community.  Indeed, there almost seems to be a revival of the Christmas song.  Lots and lots to choose from.

reasoning xmas

If you want a great two-track EP, get The Reasoning’s “It’s Christmas (Sing it Loud),” out today, and available from amazon.com and iTunes.  Rachel Cohen has the voice of an angel, of course, and it shows in every note she sings with one of the greatest prog/rock outfits around today.  Thank you, Matt Cohen, master of many, many things.  For those of you who shy away from prog, no worries.  This is just a wonderfully joyous song.  I think it could’ve easily been the finale to HOME ALONE.

proggychristmas-new2-2

Neal Morse, never unwilling to profess his own faith (in Christianity and in prog!) has two CDs out you might like.  The first, out last year at this time and still available, is a PROGGY CHRISTMAS–featuring just about everyone you could imagine.  As I wrote last year:

All of the members of Transatlantic (Portnoy, Trewavas, and Stolt), Steve Hackett, Steve Morse, and Randy George.  Portnoy is even “The Little Drummer Boy”!  Jerry Guidroz does his usual extraordinary mixing and engineering.

Also available–as a member of the Neal Morse Inner Circle–“Christmas 2013.”  These songs date back almost 20 years.  Very delicate as well as energetic.

leah christmas

Our own progarchist, lovely Leah, “metal maid,” has a gorgeous EP out, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”  Three tracks introduce the listener to our favorite Canuck rocker (that is, below the age of 60.  Sorry Geddy, Alex, and Neil) and the spirit of a metal Christmas.

kevinmccormickandrachelm

Finally, out just since last Friday, is another progarchist album, In Dulci Jubilo.  This one comes from classical and progressive guitarist Kevin McCormick and his oldest daughter, Rachel.  My best description of this album is “immaculate.”  In Dulci Jubilo is 14 tracks long at 46 minutes.  A much more detailed review forthcoming.