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Rock - Released December 1, 1968 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

Booklet Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
A wild, freewheeling, and ultimately successful attempt to merge psychedelia with jazz-rock, Soft Machine's debut ranges between lovingly performed oblique pop songs and deranged ensemble playing from drummer/vocalist Robert Wyatt, bassist Kevin Ayers and organist Mike Ratledge. With only one real break (at the end of side one), the songs merge into each other -- not always smoothly, but always with a sense of flair that rescues any potential miscues. Wyatt takes most of the vocals, and proves himself a surprisingly evocative singer despite his lack of range. Like Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Vol. 1 was one of the few over-ambitious records of the psychedelic era that actually delivered on all its incredible promise. © John Bush & Stewart Mason /TiVo
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Contemporary Jazz - Released July 3, 2020 | Dyad Records

Hi-Res Booklet
Despite the fact that Soft Machine Legacy included no original members, three -- guitarist John Etheridge, bassist Roy Babbington, and drummer John Marshall -- have all been in various incarnations of the band since the '70s, while reed and woodwind man Theo Travis is a generation younger and joined in 2006. To celebrate the release of their wonderfully realized 50th anniversary outing Hidden Details -- their first studio album in 37 years -- Soft Machine Legacy dropped the last word from their name for their half-centennial U.S. and European tours. Live at the Baked Potato was cut at the famed Los Angeles venue in February of 2019. The 12-tune set includes six jams from Hidden Details by Etheridge, Marshall, and Travis, and four from former members Karl Jenkins, Hugh Hopper, and Mike Ratledge. The latter's ubiquitous "Out-Bloody-Rageous" commences as a layered, mysterious, two-and-a-half-minute intro with everybody playing keyboards before kicking into gear via Babbington's propulsive bassline and Etheridge's choppy jazz chords. Travis' saxophone follows the serpentine tune through hard fusion, jazz funk, and contrapuntal vamping, establishing a groove that just doesn't quit. Etheridge and Babbington launch into the instantly recognizable riff for Jenkins' "Hazard Profile," with Travis joining on the turnaround chorus. Gloriously assertive, a dynamic drop introduces Etheridge, who unwinds a jagged solo that multiplies in intensity with every chorus atop a breakbeat shuffle from Marshall and a formidable piano break from Travis. The playing is so inspired, at seven minutes in it still feels abbreviated. Hopper's "Kings and Queens" is introduced by a languid, haunting flute solo from Travis, as Babbington and Marshall whisper in the margin. The improvisation is deeply communicative and subtle. It creates a small gateway intro to Jenkins' quintessential jazz rocker "The Tale of Taliesin" that unfurls a power jam with killer breaks from Etheridge, Travis' Rhodes piano, and savage cymbal riding from Marshall, all as Babbington pushes blunted Anglo-funk underneath. Etheridge evokes the blues on the short ballad "Heart Off Guard" as his bandmates sensitively frame his melody. It's followed by the sparsely beautiful "Broken Hill" that, despite being another ballad, is a fine showcase for the guitarist's skillful harmonic arpeggiations. Travis' "Fourteen Hour Dream" gets things back to choogling as a rumbling prog rock jam with gorgeous twinned lines between him and Etheridge. While Ratledge's "The Man Who Waved at Trains" begins with brooding reflection, Etheridge and Travis meld blues and jazz counterpoint with sharp interplay between Marshall and Babbington adding ballast. The final two cuts are both Travis': "Life on Bridges" melds spiky prog, fusion, and frenzied group improv, while closer "Hidden Details" is gorgeous, vamped-up fusion rubbing up against post-bop. Where Hidden Details reveals Soft Machine's return to creative recording in studio, Live at the Baked Potato showcases a renewed, inventive, and inspiring live attraction, capable of incendiary improvisation, hard-grooving rock and funk, syncopated prog, and sophisticated modal and post-bop jazz. Impeccably recorded, Live at the Baked Potato stands with the best Soft Machine live outings of any vintage. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released July 26, 2019 | Esoteric Recordings

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Progressive Rock - Released July 19, 2010 | Esoteric Recordings

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Progressive Rock - Released October 25, 2010 | Sony Music UK

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Progressive Rock - Released February 17, 2007 | SONY BMG Catalog

Soft Machine's collective skill is hyper-complex and refined, as they are extremely literate in all fields of musical study. Fourth is the band's free purging of all of that knowledge, woven into noisy, smoky structures of sound. Their arcane rhythms have a stop-and-go mentality of their own that sounds incredibly fresh even though it is sonically steeped in soft and warm tones. Obviously there is a lot of skillful playing going on, as the mix of free jazz, straight-ahead jazz, and Gong-like psychedelia coalesces into a skronky plateau. Robert Wyatt's drumming is impeccable -- so perfect that it at times becomes an unnoticeable map upon which the bandmembers take their instinctive direction. Mike Ratledge's keys are warm throughout, maintaining an earthy quality that keeps its eye on the space between the ground and the heavens that Soft Machine attempt to inhabit. Elton Dean's saxophone work screams out the most inventive cadence, and since it's hardly rhythmic, it takes front and center, spitting out a crazy language. Certainly the band is the preface to a good portion of Chicago's post-rock output, as the Softs undoubtedly give a nod to Miles Davis' Bitches Brew experiments, which were going on in the U.S. at the same time. © Ken Taylor /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2010 | Geffen

A wild, freewheeling, and ultimately successful attempt to merge psychedelia with jazz-rock, Soft Machine's debut ranges between lovingly performed oblique pop songs and deranged ensemble playing from drummer/vocalist Robert Wyatt, bassist Kevin Ayers and organist Mike Ratledge. With only one real break (at the end of side one), the songs merge into each other -- not always smoothly, but always with a sense of flair that rescues any potential miscues. Wyatt takes most of the vocals, and proves himself a surprisingly evocative singer despite his lack of range. Like Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Vol. 1 was one of the few over-ambitious records of the psychedelic era that actually delivered on all its incredible promise. © John Bush & Stewart Mason /TiVo
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Rock - Released June 28, 2010 | Esoteric Recordings

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Progressive Rock - Released February 17, 2007 | SONY BMG Catalog

Soft Machine's revolving door of personnel changes continued with 1973's Seven, the last Softs album with a numbered title and also the last released by Columbia. Bassist Hugh Hopper was gone, replaced by Roy Babbington, a guest musician on 1971's Fourth who had played bass with Nucleus. Two other Nucleus alumni, keyboardist/reedman Karl Jenkins and drummer John Marshall, were on board as well, and since keyboardist/composer Mike Ratledge was now the band's only founding member (actually, Hopper wasn't an original member either, having replaced Kevin Ayers for Volume Two), the group's links to their early years seemed increasingly tenuous -- and would become more so. Yet when Jenkins had joined the group prior to Six, following the departure of saxophonist Elton Dean, he seemed to bring an intuitive grasp of how Soft Machine could continue moving forward in the band's jazz-rock years while retaining touchstones to the past. A less assertive saxophonist than Dean, Jenkins played multiple reeds but didn't really match Dean as an improviser; his main contributions in the future would be as keyboardist and composer in the ever-evolving Soft Machine style of jazz-rock. And on Seven, he penned seven of the album's 12 tracks, beginning to assume the band leadership role that Ratledge -- who composed four tracks -- shied away from. With Jenkins edging closer to the band's creative center, the Softs forged ahead with their riff- and ostinato-based music, keyboard and reed melodies intersecting at unexpected angles with streamlined yet often odd-metered bass and drums, all flowing forward with muted, spacy sonorities and sometimes hypnotic repetition (and, of course, bridges or codas of echoing keyboard loops). Ratledge composed a trio of connected tracks for Seven, a mini-suite beginning with the modal 9/8 "Day's Eye," including a solo feature for him to cut loose with his patented fuzz organ tone, bridging through the brief burst of "Bone Fire" (which puts Jenkins through his paces on baritone sax) to the truly heavy "Tarabos," its bass/keyboard vamp pulling upward and resolving at skewed points along an 18-beat sequence while Jenkins solos wildly with a signal splitter on his horn. But Jenkins sets the album's pace, beginning with the upbeat fuzzy riffing of the opening "Nettle Bed" and the drifting, dreamy "Carol Ann" through his own suite of connected tracks during the second half, including the trance-inducing "Penny Hitch," the full-throttle "Block" (building to an abrupt staccato unison conclusion), and the comparatively relaxed 5/4 vamp of "Down the Road" (featuring a fine arco acoustic bass solo from Babbington). The album ends with three minutes of spacy looping keyboards, split in two with the first part, "The German Lesson," credited to Ratledge as composer and the second part, "The French Lesson," credited to Jenkins, but there is no discernable division or musical difference between them -- no doubt intended as a joke, but also an apt comment on the passing of the torch during Soft Machine's '70s jazz-rock years. © Dave Lynch /TiVo
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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released September 7, 2018 | Dyad Records

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Six

Progressive Rock - Released February 17, 2007 | SONY BMG Catalog

The Soft Machine were many things to many people, but to most, the real Soft Machine ceased to exist when founder Robert Wyatt left to work on his conspicuously titled Matching Mole project. This departure is generally credited to the Soft Machine's creative advance away from prog rock and toward jazz fusion. Three years and three records after Wyatt's departure, this creative motion was in full sail, and the release of Six cemented the band in their distant station beyond the gravity of anything that resembled rock and its spacious, cutting-edge sonics and more symmetrical rhythms. The jazz era that began on Fourth and continued through the '70s mutates slightly on Six, from the free improvisational structures used frequently on prior releases into a somewhat more constrained fusion design. This is due largely to new member Karl Jenkins, who makes a mighty impact on the Soft Machine's sound with his sax playing and songwriting -- and who later took creative control over the group, bringing in several guitarists to solidify a fusion sound. Half live and half studio album, Six will never interest classic-era stalwarts, but Jenkins and drummer John Marshall lead old-timers Mike Ratledge and Hugh Hopper through some nifty fusion exercises that fans of the genre (and obscure '70s music of every kind) might find very enjoyable. © Vincent Jeffries /TiVo
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Progressive Rock - Released February 17, 2007 | SONY BMG Catalog

As the Soft Machine moved further away from rock on Third and Fourth, drummer/vocalist Robert Wyatt's dissatisfaction with the band's direction grew and, by the time sessions started for Fifth in late 1971, he had left permanently to form Matching Mole. While the instrumental Fourth had forayed deep into jazz-rock territory, Fifth found the Soft Machine working almost completely in the jazz idiom. At the time of Wyatt's departure, keyboardist Mike Ratledge commented that the band's co-founder had "never enjoyed or accepted working in complex time signatures." However, Wyatt's replacement -- Phil Howard -- didn't prove to be the kind of timekeeper Ratledge and bassist Hugh Hopper had in mind and his free jazz orientation led to his dismissal during the recording of the album. Howard's propulsive rhythms nevertheless make a vital contribution to memorable Ratledge compositions like "All White" and "Drop" as they gather momentum and coalesce into driving grooves. "All White" is focused largely on Elton Dean's sax performance while "Drop" ultimately showcases the intense busy fuzz of Ratledge's organ. In places on Fifth, there does seem to be an element of tension between the more structured approach of Ratledge and Hopper and the free-form inclinations of Dean. The looser style of Dean's squalling sax playing is foregrounded particularly on "As If" -- another Ratledge piece. A certain constituency among Soft Machine fans tends to concentrate on the band's earlier releases and to consider everything from Fourth onward less compelling. That attitude has something to do with not being especially interested in jazz, so it's not entirely fair to dismiss this album without qualifying such a judgment. Anyone expecting to hear a rock album or a jazz-rock album will probably be disappointed with Fifth. This is essentially a jazz record, more concerned with texture and interplay than with song-based structures. © Wilson Neate /TiVo
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Progressive Rock - Released November 29, 2010 | Esoteric Recordings

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Progressive Rock - Released November 13, 2015 | Floating World

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Rock - Released January 1, 2009 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

Booklet
The first Soft Machine LP usually got the attention, with its movable parts sleeve, as well as the presence of ultra-talented songwriter Kevin Ayers. But musically, Volume Two better conveys the Dada-ist whimsy and powerful avant rock leanings of the band. Hugh Hopper took over for Ayers on bass, and his fuzz tones and experimental leanings supplanted Ayers' pop emphasis. The creative nucleus behind this most progressive of progressive rock albums, however, is Robert Wyatt. He provides the musical arrangements to Hopper's quirky ideas on the stream-of-consciousness collection of tunes ("Rivmic Melodies") on side one. Unlike the first record, which sounded choppy and often somnolent, this one blends together better, and it has a livelier sound. The addition of session horn players enhanced the Softs' non-guitar lineup, and keyboardist Mike Ratledge, whose musical erudition frequently clashed in the early days with the free-spirited Wyatt, Ayers, and Daevid Allen, lightened his touch here. He even contributes one of the album's highlights with "Pig" ("Virgins are boring/They should be grateful for the things they're ignoring"). But it's Wyatt who lifts this odd musical jewel to its artistic heights. He uses his tender voice like a jazz instrument, scatting (in Spanish!) on "Dada Was Here," and sounding entirely heartfelt in "Have You Ever Bean Green," a brief tribute to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, with whom the Softs toured ("Thank you Noel and Mitch, thank you Jim, for our exposure to the crowd"). Fans of the Canterbury scene will also relish "As Long as He Lies Perfectly Still," a loving tribute to ex-bandmate Ayers. This is the one record that effectively assimilates rock, absurdist humor, jazz, and the avant-garde, and it misses classic status only due to some dissonant instrumentation on side two. © Peter Kurtz /TiVo
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Rock - Released March 28, 2006 | Charly Records

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Progressive Rock - Released June 1, 1970 | Sony Music Media

Soft Machine plunged deeper into jazz and contemporary electronic music on this pivotal release, which incited The Village Voice to call it a milestone achievement when it was released. It's a double album of stunning music, with each side devoted to one composition -- two by Mike Ratledge, and one each by Hopper and Wyatt, with substantial help from a number of backup musicians, including Canterbury mainstays Elton Dean and Jimmy Hastings. The Ratledge songs come closest to fusion jazz, although this is fusion laced with tape loop effects and hypnotic, repetitive keyboard patterns. Hugh Hopper's "Facelift" recalls "21st Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson, although it's more complex, with several quite dissimilar sections. The pulsing rhythms, chaotic horn and keyboard sounds, and dark drones on "Facelift" predate some of what Hopper did as a solo artist later (this song was actually culled from two live performances in 1970). On his capricious composition "Moon in June," Robert Wyatt draws on musical ideas from early 1967 demos done with producer Giorgio Gomelsky. Lyrically, it's a satirical alternative to the pretension displayed by a lot of rock writing of the era, and combined with the Softs' exotic instrumentation, it makes for quite a listen (the compilation Triple Echo includes a BBC broadcast recording of "Moon in June" with different albeit equally fanciful lyrics, and the Robert Wyatt archival collection '68, released by Cuneiform in 2013, features a remastered version of Wyatt's original demo of the song, recorded in the U.S. following the Softs' tour opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience). Not exactly rock, Third nonetheless pushed the boundaries of rock into areas previously unexplored, and it managed to do so without sounding self-indulgent. A better introduction to the group is either of the first two records, but once introduced, this is the place to go. © Peter Kurtz /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 2010 | EMI Catalogue

Truly Soft Machine "in name only"; a lackluster effort with a slick, new agey sheen. © TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 21, 2014 | Floating World

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Rock - Released August 29, 2011 | Esoteric Recordings