Here we have another band celebrating their 50th anniversary, the mighty British act Soft Machine, who have been blazing a trail of Canterbury styled progressive rock & jazz since their self-titled debut way back in 1968. Though the band have had numerous line-ups over the course of their career, the current incarnation of drummer John Marshall, bassist Roy Babbington, guitarist John Etheridge, and sax, flute, and keyboard player Theo Travis have been active since 2015 after performing under the name Soft Machine Legacy with various line-ups since the early 2000's. Hidden Details is actually the first album since 1981's Land of Cockayne to use the original Soft Machine name, and finds the band on the always reliable MoonJune Records.
This new album contains 14 tracks, most of which are new compositions but there are a few re-imaginings of older Soft Machine classics from the '70s. Hidden Details was also engineered by ex-Colosseum/Tempest/John Mayall drummer Jon Hiseman, who sadly passed away before the album was officially released. The ominous title track kicks things off with Etheridge's chunky guitar riffs, undulating rhythms, and Travis' sultry sax melodies, a boiling, burning maelstrom of lethal jazz, Babbington's bass booming over tricky drum fills from Marshall, allowing both guitar & sax to solo with reckless abandon. Many will recall that Etheridge has actually replaced Allan Holdsworth twice in the past, and you can hear right off the bat why on this great track as his acrobatic solo soars and flutters with supreme virtuosity. Airy electric piano and flute add a majestic element to "The Man Who Waved at Trains", an extended re-working of the original Bundles album track from 1975, here with Travis given free reign to transform this composition into an entirely new beast. "Ground Lift" offers up some rampaging free-jazz, Travis squonking on his sax and Etheridge's wah-wah saturated guitar battling over Marshall's busy drumming, while the more acoustic "Heart Off Guard" and the tender "Broken Hill" offer up more tranquil sounds, the latter with a smattering of prog & psychedelia.
"Flight of the Jet" is a great vehicle for Marshall's expert drum passages & percussive work, as well as an assortment of effects laden noises from Etheridge, but the albums first instance of catchy, groove laden jazzy funk comes in the form of "One Glove", an Etheridge number that also contains a blazing guitar solo that will leave you breathless. The wild "Out Bloody Rageous, Part 1" from Soft Machine's acclaimed Third album is just wonderful in the hands of the current line-up, Travis' glorious sax lines wispy and soaring over some complex rhythms courtesy of Babbington & Marshall. The lengthy "Life on Bridges" again sees Travis and Etheridge getting involved in a sensational battle, sax & guitar screaming at each other for supremacy over frantic rhythms...this one is a wild ride indeed!
Another one of the more hook laden tracks here is the upbeat, engaging "Fourteen Hour Dream", another Travis penned number (he is quite the composer) with some tricky Marshall drumming, dreamy flute, and a tasty guitar solo. Hidden Details closes with the atmospheric "Breathe", a Marshall original that really 'breathes', a cross between Tangerine Dream and Jade Warrior, complete with lovely flute, keyboard soundscapes, and gentle percussion. Brilliant.
Honestly, that's the best way to describe Hidden Details, simply brilliant. This is jazz-fusion of the highest order, performed by master musicians still at the top of their game. Perfect in every way, this one will keep you coming back for more time and time again. Highest Recommendations!
See more about this release on our recent YouTube show!
1. Hidden Details
2. The Man Who Waved At Trains
3. Ground Lift
4. Heart Off Guard
5. Broken Hill
6. Flight Of The Jet
7. One Glove
8. Out Bloody Intro
9. Out Bloody Rageous, Part 1
10. Drifting White
11. Life On Bridges
12. Fourteen Hour Dream