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Friday, November 4, 2022

Soft Machine – Facelift - France & Holland (Cuneiform Records, 2022)

By Guido Montegrandi

Soft Machine is a shape-shifting entity, in its 50 and some years of existence it has changed so many lineups that it is difficult to keep track of all of them (for those who are curious and brave enough can be a good stating point). So far so good, for history.

Facelift - France and Holland presents the group as a quintet, a lineup that only lasted from January to March 1970. On 6th June of the same year, Third (probably one of their best, if not their best work) would be published with a total of eight musician involved; so the concerts recorded here happened in between the production of the double LP - a period of high creativity which will stretch for the next couple of years. All around them, it was a period of experiments and innovation: rock music was mixing with jazz and avant-garde, Coltrane, Stockhausen, Riley were all part of a mix which just a few years before would have sounded absurd for any rock band.

So in the middle of all that were the Soft Machine, out of (but not completely) their first psychedelic period, into (but not completely) their subsequent jazz-rock or rock-jazz period, in which they had become something different, something totally new. As already noted, the lineup was always in turmoil but at its core there was the trio Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper - quoting Lyn Dobson who plays with them in this record “between them it was a fantastic combination. There was a kind of chemical difference between them, but it was out of that tension that something amazing happened (…) Very powerful music”

The materials edited by Cuneiform Records contain some of the pieces that would become classics of the Soft Machine ('Facelift,' 'Slightly All The Time,' 'Out-Bloody-Rageous,' 'Moon in June') and are absolutely relevant for at least two reasons: the first is the video (which can only be obtained if you get a physical copy – CD or LP) that really shows “a cinematographic quality” (quoting the press release) and adds some interesting insight about the interplay and the commitment of the band members to their music. The second is 4 hours and 42 minutes of music by one of the most original band ever and even if disc 1 is a just the double of the DVD audio, disc 2 offers the complete Paris and Amsterdam concerts. There are repeated pieces ('Facelift,' 'Esther’s Nose Job/Pigling Bland,' 'Moon in June') but each time with a difference that is worth exploring.

The third reason out of two is: Third, when you have done listening to this record you should listen to the double LP Soft Machine Third to see how these concerts’ music crystalized at list for a while and to listen to the studio version of 'Moon in June' which marks the beginning of what Robert Wyatt will become in the following decades.

So if you already love “La Machine Molle” the DVD is a must, if you don’t, this is a good occasion to appreciate their art and then maybe start exploring their “very powerful music”.

Available on Bandcamp.