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Soft Machine Soft Machine
Album: Six
Label: Talking Elephant
Tracks: 15

Having recently included a release by jazz rockers Weather Report, the FATEA acoustic spectrum gets pushed even further with Talking Elephant's release of 'Six' by Soft Machine.

Varyingly described and falling under the umbrella of Canterbury scene / progressive / psychedelic / jazz fusionists, their impact and influence particularly that of one time member Robert Wyatt, is unquestionably far reaching.

'Six' emerged from the immediate period following Wyatt's departure (one that remains in 'did he fall or was he pushed?' territory) proving the start of a dizzying hop on/hop off roundabout of members. A musical soap opera of the highest order. In 1973, the quartet of Hugh Hopper, Karl Jenkins, John Marshall and Mike Ratledge delivered their version of Soft Machine on a live/studio set which showcased the good, the bad and he ugly of their genre. They'd shifted toward a more jazz fusion direction and given their head in the live setting, always a place for experimentation and improvisation, there's more doodling than a Tony Hart sketchbook.

The eleven live pieces see them freeforming around what could be very loose arrangements if any arrangement at all. There's even some vagueness where one piece merges into another. Coming back to the folk side of the acoustic spectrum it's what the Sweeney/Cutting/Harbon combo in Leveret do in taking a tune and seeing where it takes them but in a much more intriguing and concise way.

For those who fail to appreciate an element of noodling, it may be a struggle to find merit and enjoy an 'experience' that probably falls into the very arty and creative vein. A model of expression and indulgence contrasts with the studio offerings which are by their nature a little more contained and structured. Having said that, eleven minutes of 'The Soft Weed Factor', once it finally gets into gear is an interesting groove and the classical feel of much of the studio pieces stands out.

Like the music, the Soft Machine story is long and complex, while looking back at their legacy might reveal less of a kindly rose tint.

Mike Ainscoe