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US/EU coverpic Japanese coverpic flag England - Full Moon 82 - 05/16/03

Soft Works

The album was released in Japan in March on Universal Records. Moonjune has duly set the European and US release to the moon in June. Soft Works consists of Elton Dean, Allan Holdsworth, Hugh Hopper and John Marshall. They were all members of Soft Machine at some point, though never at the same time. As with previous other soft projects involving messieurs Dean and Hopper, like Soft Heap and Soft Head, they have the decency not to re-awake the original semi-legendary band name. Thank you! Soft Machine started as an eccentric English psychedelic combo in 1966 and finally disbanded as a steady jazz-rock institution about 18 years later. Soft Works picks up the threads where Soft Machine ended. Abracadabra is more jazz than rock, mainly due to Elton Dean's sax playing that dominates throughout and the neat drumming by John Marshall. Let's label the album modern English jazz, if ever it existed, although sometimes Alan Holdsworth's electric and especially synthaxe guitars seem beyond any musical genre to these ears. Here and there they sound closer to keyboards than guitars and a couple of times even remind of Mike Ratledge's fuzz-organ of early Soft Machine heydays!

Most compositions allow for substantial improvisations, mainly Elton's. Personally I prefer the relatively short (about 5 minutes) and structured tracks like "Baker's Treat" (clever title!) - the "ballad" of the album so to speak - and the close to funky "Willie's Knee". Both demonstrate what an extraordinary guitarist Allan Holdworth is. Overall Abracadabra oozes of experienced musicality and instinctive communication. The quartet proves it's yet another vital branch of the Canterbury family tree. (For those not familiar with the wonderful world of Canterbury music, check out our short version here.) The version of Phil Miller's Canterbury classic 'Calyx' (originally from Hatfield & the North's first album and sung by Robert Wyatt), here cunningly re-named "K-Licks", is another highlight, sounding as fresh as ever.

Strange to know that Elton John chose his artistic name after playing with Elton Dean and Long John Baldry some time in the 60s and that one of Hugh Hopper's very first songs, the wonderful "Memories", once was recorded by Whitney Houston. Soft Works belongs on a different planet compared to those mainstream artists.

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