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The Soft Machine Legacy

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Once upon a time, there was Soft Machine, whose influence crafted an entire genre of music and afforded the inspiration for countless progrock bands. Over the years, the members of Soft Machine have wandered far, continuing to spread rampant creativity and generate hordes of new bands and solo releases.

Now, emerging from the shadowy past, comes a new incarnation of these talented personnel: the Soft Machine Legacy.

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SOFT MACHINE LEGACY: Legacy (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2006 offers 57 minutes of awesome modern jazz.

For this recording, the band is: the late Elton Dean (on saxophone, saxello, and Fender Rhodes), John Etheridge (on guitar), Hugh Hopper (on bass), and John Marshall (on drums and percussion).

Strong guitar provides a tasty counterpoint for strident horns that immediately command attention and respect. Rumbling basslines thunder underneath, establishing a firm foundation. Add a roiling presence of relentless percussion and you have a thrilling sonic excursion deep into cerebral ecstasy.

Besides being nimble-fingered, Etheridge gets his guitar to roar with a searing demeanor, achieving fiery displays of bewitching riffs. Whether blazing like a sonic beacon or cleverly lurking in the mix, the guitar delivers shimmering satisfaction with each note.

Dean's saxophone releases demonstrative cries of jubilation into the mix, flavoring the melodies with urgency and delightful passion. His saxello introduces a lighter tone into the tuneage, an injection of high altitude air to the gut-wrenching mood achieved by the rest of the instruments.

Dean also provides lilting keyboards that bestow a nostalgic flavor to the music.

Hopper's bass acts like some geological beast, generating fervent guidance in the form of chords that tremble and seethe. Often, the bass notes possess an unearthly buzz, as if imbued with celestial vitality.

Marshall's percussion is suitably complex. The beats follow each other with such velocity that the rhythms exhibit a fluid quality. Even when pittering with portentous intentions, the tempos produce an eager tension, promising imminent eruptions of vibrant stamina.

These compositions are a remarkable testament to the permanence of true talent. Combining sultry jazz character with modern delivery, this music revels in a diligent level of expertise. The tunes are rich with the kind of power that infuses everything with a glorious inner light.

As far as legacies go, this one merits obsessive attention.

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SOFT MACHINE LEGACY: Live in Zaandam (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2006 offers 51 minutes of music recorded live at De Kade in Zaandam, Holland on May 10, 2005.

The line-up is the same as the above release.

Transposing the above musicians and their instruments from a studio and onto stage does little to alter the music's tightness or intellectual appeal. The horns retain their emphatic fervor. The guitar still possesses its ardent growl. The bass maintains its customary growl. And the percussion still pounds with intricacy and appeal. A crafted softness is present in the music, though, born of familiar spontaneity and languishing in the fever of live performance.

Etheridge's guitar mastery shines with brilliance, belting out mesmerizing riffs with molten beauty. At other times, he steps down the effulgence to tickle endearing chords from his strings, generating seductively understated embellishment to the rest of the twinkling music. In certain instances, this delicate guitarwork fits superlatively with the soft croon of the keyboards.

Dean's horns express stoic passages with perfect charm seasoned with a hint of optimism. There's nothing mournful about these nimble chords, they serve to celebrate with enthusiastic resonance. Periodically, Dean switches from sax to coax romantic divinity from his Fender Rhodes piano, sending slippery melodies pouring through the mix like a delicious waterfall.

Hopper's bass resounds like a restless Tyrannosaurus Rex prowling the mix, rumbling throaty undercurrents that bristle with verve. These basslines are laced with a pleasant buzz, attributing their charismatic rumble with a furry quality.

Marshall's percussion prospers on-stage, the rhythms swelling into puissant locomotion. Pace and force fluctuate, according to the current needs dictated by the melody at hand. Slow tempos are delivered with soothing skill, while higher velocity rhythms cascade with dazzling force.

These compositions exhibit enthralling structure and captivating allure, whether smoldering with sly deliberation or brimming with explosive cadence.

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SOFT MACHINE LEGACY: Steam (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2007 offers 65 minutes of jaunty progrock.

For this incarnation, the band is: John Etheridge on guitar, Hugh Hopper on bass and loops, John Marshall on drums and percussion, and (replacing the late Elton dean) Theo Travis on saxophones, flute, and loops.

Guitar, bass, drums, and horns and flute. But with this recording the structure of the music is slightly different, arranged in a manner that grants the instruments more solos. Worry not, though, for the most part the instruments still mesh together, coalescing into a unified sound of unrivaled beauty.

This time, the horns seem to dominate the tuneage, filling the air with shrill sax that sends the pulse racing with ecstasy. There are passages, however, in which the horns assume a tender timbre, resonating with a gentle longing that tugs at the heart.

The guitar is often relegated to the midground, where its sharp chords punctuate the rollicking flow. Fear not, there are enough instances of frontal frenzy, searing riffs that pierce the darkness with a fervent euphoria.

That fuzzy quality, as if each note is wrapped around a swarm of angry wasps, overwhelms the basslines. Their rumble is fruitful and thrilling, often carrying the tune briefly before submerging back into the mix. Where most basslines are confined to a subliminal presence, buried by other instruments, Hopper's bass has a tendency to bully its way to the forefront--ah, but that bullying is done in a wholly amiable manner, one respected by the other instruments. This burred presence compliments the overall sound in a prosperous way.

The drums adopt a more thunderous character with this recording, provide not just propulsion, but often swamping the mix with demonstrative rhythms of delightful depth. Even when stepped down and studiously pounding from an auxiliary position, the beats resound with crisp articulation, asserting themselves with suitable temperance.

As mentioned, there are numerous points that allow each instrument to express they brilliance in tantalizing solos.

These compositions carry more magnitude than earlier releases, as if the songs are aware of their own importance and spare no opportunity to display that prominence.

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HUGH HOPPER: Hopper Tunity Box (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This CD from 2007 is a long awaited reissue of Hopper's classic album from 1976, which features 41 minutes of auspicious progrock.

Bassist extraordinaire Hopper (who also contributes guitar, recorders, soprano saxophone and percussion) is joined on this release by Richard Brunton (on guitar), Mark Charig (on coronet and tenor horn), Elton Dean (on alto saxophone and saxello), Nigel Morris and Mike Travis (both on drums), Frank Roberts (on electric piano), Dave Stewart (on organ, pianet, oscillators), and Gary Windo (on bass clarinet and saxophones).

This music exhibits a curious blend of gritty and fanciful sounds which form a splendid sonic loveliness. Passion runs deep in this music, whether the songs are lighthearted or momentous.

Decisive horns provide a dense presence, one that sways with emphatic charm as melodies are captured by the blaring outcries. Meanwhile, delicate horns establish a heavenly air not unlike a pasture of colorful blooms.

Percussion is ample and frequently crashing, lacing the tunes with rhythms that walk a fine line between chaos and order. For the softer pieces, the beats are fragile and eloquently evocative.

Dave Stewart's sprightly keyboards provide a distinctly classic Canterbury edge as they convey the melodies with their nimble expressions.

Guitars play a vital role too, conjuring riffs with blinding clarity.

But it's Hopper's thunderous bass that knits everything together with cohesive, indeed inspired, eminence. The growling basslines are thick with an eerie resonance that bestows an astral dignity to the tunes.

With one exception (being Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman"), these compositions all stem from Hopper's fertile mind, and mark a distinguished stage in the musician's career wherein he allowed his creativity to unfurl as a solo performer.

A historical release that should be mandatory in every audiophile's collection.

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HUGH HOPPER: Numero D'Vol (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2007 offers 64 minutes of inventive jazz.

Bassist extraordinaire Hopper is joined on this release by Simon Picard on saxophone, Steve Franklin on keyboards, and Charles Hayward (from This Heat) on drums.

Although the tone of the first song is sentimental and soft, the other tracks embody a searing vitality full of energizing melodies and quirky hooks.

The basslines slither like a furred serpent exploring the sonic terrain. At times, they erupt with growling expressions that threaten to fracture the concrete underfoot. Hooper's signature buzz lends the notes an unearthly disposition, as if striving to pierce dimensional boundaries.

The sax can be romantic and dreamy, pursuing heavenly conditions with gentle determination. The sax can also be ardent and enthusiastic, cascading with vibrant force and flittering up and down the scale with a creative abandon that never strays into turmoil.

The keyboards evoke a classical mood--until they break out into progressive territory to cavort with visionary intent. Waterfalls of notes spill forth in swaying waves, flavoring the mix with their nimble punctuation.

The percussion possesses a mighty depth, the type that penetrates matter to disrupt molecular cohesion. The rhythms are meticulous and sturdy.

These compositions run the gamut from gentle to puissant to experimental, but a solid nucleus of sonic expertise remains steadfast. Inventive tunes captivate and enthrall with their yearning temperament, imbuing each passage with a hybrid of traditional and modern jazz that is satisfying and spiritually rewarding.

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ELTON DEAN & THE WRONG OBJECT: The Unbelievable Truth (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2007 offers 68 minutes of lovely jazz music recorded live in Paris at Glaz'Art on October 18, 2005.

Dean plays saxello and alto saxophone. The Wrong Object is: Laurent Delchambre on drums and percussion, Fred Delphanq on tenor saxophone, Michel Delville on guitar and voice, Jean-Paul Estievenhart on trumpet, and Damien Polard on bass.

Energized relaxation is the keynote here, with tunes that tenderly smolder while conveying an undercurrent of lively verve.

These melodies are alive with agile percussion that flavors the gentle pace with an appropriate level of versatile pep. Periodically delving into seeming chaos, the rhythms loyally slide into delightful cohesion and flourish with mercurial determination.

Strummed guitar lurks in the mix, providing a tasty strata of twinkling demeanor. The guitar also surfaces to shine with compressed chords that generate an ambrosial sense of numbed hyperactivity.

The basslines are seductively buried, allowing them to season the tunes from a hidden vantage. When the bass elbows its way to the forefront, its rumble is quite visceral.

But it's the horns that drive these songs. Emotional trumpet belting out sparkling notes of grand depth. Twin saxophones describing spry aerial arcs of soulful demeanor, filling the mix with vigorous melodies that frequently ascend to scrape heaven's ceiling with their glorious breaths.

For all their power, these compositions are generally gentle structures, designed to relax, yet the instruments strive to break that pacification with brisk expressions that brim with command.

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