Let's get this straight right from the outset-if there was every any doubt that Soft Machine were one hell of an electric avant-garde jazz band, check out this CD/DVD set Grides. The CD portion was recorded in October 1970 in Amsterdam, when the band went out to play some live shows to break up the recordings in the studio for the album that would eventually surface called Fourth. Much of the set list here was pretty consistent with what Soft Machine would play during that time period, along with some new tracks thrown in that were still being worked on. The band at the time was comprised of Elton Dean on sax & electric piano, Hugh Hopper on bass, Mike Ratledge on electric piano & organ, and Robert Wyatt on drums & vocals. While many classify Soft Machine as a prog rock group, it's pretty obvious by listening to the bands output from this period that they had more in common with classic jazz fusion like Miles Davis or Nucleus, as the music relied less on a structured song approach and more on jazzy improvisations and long, dissonant solo spots. Ratledge especially would venture out into worlds unknown with plenty of distorted fuzz organ & electric piano jaunts, as did Dean on his squonking sax and Hopper with his maniacal fuzz bass lines. Many of the trademark Soft Machine tracks are included here, such as "Facelift", "Out-Bloody Rageous", "Teeth", and "Esther's Nose Job". Those who are well familiar with the bands music will notice some different arrangements to a few of the pieces here, mainly due to altered approach to some of the improvisations, as well as a few tracks that were still not yet fully realized, but it's all adventurous and far-reaching nontheless. Basically, this is a snapshot of a band that was at the top of their game and really hitting all sorts of highs as far as creative output was concerned. Sound-wise, it's a great set, and a worthwhile live album to have in your Soft Machine collection.
The DVD was taped on March 23, 1971 at Radio Bremen TV Studio in Germany, later broadcast on the Beat Club show four days later. While only about 21 minutes long, this short set is still a great look at the Soft Machine back in 1971 in all their exploratory and adventurous glory. Recovered from VHS, the quality and sound is pretty remarkable considering that the source material is 35 years old. While the use of lighting and psychedelic stage effects is pretty dated and indicative of the times, it's still pretty fascinating to see such intense avant-garde jazz music being played to such a trippy backdrop.
Again, Cuneiform comes up with the goods when it comes to unearthing vintage Soft Machine material.
1) Facelift (6:59)
2) Virtually (15:34)
3) Out-Bloody Rageous (8:12)
4) Neo-Caliban Grides (10:12)
5) Teeth (8:03)
6) Slightly All the Time (10:34)
7) Eamonn Andrews (1:36)
8) Esther's Nose Job (11:22)
9) Slightly All the Time/Noisette (6:43)
1) Neo-Caliban Grides (5:16)
2) Out-Bloody Rageous (6:57)
3) Robert Wyatt's Vocal Improvisation (2:22)
4) Eamonn Andrews (2:22)
5) All White (4:25)