England - Full Moon 136 - 10/26/07
Soft Machine Legacy
Soft Machine Legacy (SML) used to be Elton Dean (saxophones and keyboards), John Etheridge (guitar), Hugh Hopper (bass) and John Marshall (drums). After Elton's tragic death in February 2006, Theo Travis (Gong and lots of other projects) has taken over the saxes, and included flutes too. The members of the original quartet had all been part of Soft Machine (see our Moon In June feature, that particular song also gave name to the record company involved here) at one point or other. I guess Theo T. belongs to another and younger generation. SML is a continuation of SoftWorks with Allan Holdsworth being substituted by John Etheridge. And there have been several other Soft offshoots, too, from the late 1970s until now (Soft Heap, Soft Head, SoftWhere, Soft Bounds and Soft Mountain), with ex-members from Soft Machine, some closer to the original band than the Legacy of today.
I've heard only a little bit of earlier recordings by SML, Steam being the fourth album and the first with Theo Travis. Initially I was a bit sceptical. We're dealing with three artists around 60 years old and one youngster. All of them are among the most experienced musicians in the British jazz field, I suspect. I was afraid they were playing safe and only using all the old tricks in the book. Steam proved me wrong. They do know all the tricks in the book but are eager to explore new ones, too. I don't know if it's my lacking knowledge of earlier SML material or Theo's arrival in the band. Anyhow, the album smells of an enthusiastic and playful quartet, eager to explore unploughed soil. The music is firmly planted in contemporary jazz with generous doses of jazz-rock, too. Here is a fine blend of written and improvised music, including one completely improvised experimental piece, "Dave Acto". A couple of the most apparent jazz-rock numbers also fits nicely into the blend of jazz and rock that is characteristic of the Canterbury scene, "Anything To Anywhere" in particular. [You can find a short description of the scene here. Which goes to show. Hugh Hopper was one of the "founders" of the scene and one of the very few who was born and bred in the town.] The band even rocks, check out the guitar parts of "The Big Man".
You might have guessed it: Soft Machine Legacy let loose a lot of Steam!
Copyright © 2007 JP