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Soft Machine: Middle Earth Masters

The early work of Soft Machine saw the band more of an experimental psychedelic ensemble when compared to the almost jazz flavored avant-garde powerhouse they would later become in the early 70's. In 1967, after the band's extensive touring of France, founding member Daevid Allen (who is Australian) would not be allowed back to England by the immigration authorities. He remained, eventually leaving the band and forming Gong, leaving Kevin Ayers, Mike Ratledge, and Robert Wyatt to go on as a trio. The band had already been committed to play at the Middle Earth venue in the UK as well as numerous other shows throughout Europe, which they proceeded to do rather triumpantly, and Middle Earth Masters features the trio from the October 13th, 1967 performance at the Middle Earth.

While a few of the songs, notably "Clarence in Wonderland" and "We Know What You Mean", still display the pop and "flower power" psychedelic leanings that the band were known for with Allen in the band, there was a new found move to a more powerful, keyboard oriented sound. Furious organ driven jams permeate tunes like the massive epic "Hope for Happiness", with Ratledge's distorted organ screaming angry shards of molten notes and riffs, while "Disorganisation" is pure avant-garde, Ratledge again letting the organ take center stage, spewing out all sorts of dissonant sounds and noises. Fans of Dave Stewart's chaotic playing with Egg and National Health will love the latter piece for sure. The clever jazz fills of Wyatt keep the repetitive nature of "We Did it Again" interesting, a song also notable for plenty of distorted organ riffs. "Why Are We Sleeping" could almost be mistaken for doom metal, with Ayers and Wyatt pounding away with some furious rhythms while Ratledge's organ again is cranked up to the max and super distorted almost like a Gibson SG guitar. It's chaotic and almost frightening at the same time. On "I Should've Known" the band goes into faster territory, seemingly a jazz based improvisation, with Wyatt's nimble drum work keeping Ratledge's manic organ freakouts somewhat in check, before he goes off into an extended drum solo. Poorly mixed vocals are heard (barely) on the hard rock/prog number "I Should've Known", an excellent track featuring busy rhythms and Ratledge's inspiring organ flights.

Overall, this is a very noisy, but at times breathtaking recording of early Soft Machine. You can hear how later albums and performances took shape based on things that go on here. While the sound quality is not great, this is still a must hear for fans of the band, and anyone who has a passing interest in organ dominated music needs to check this album out, as it has some of the most distorted and monstrous organ sounds ever heard.

Track Listing
1. Clarence in Wonderland
2. We Know What You Mean
3. Bossa Nova Express
4. Hope for Happiness
5. Disorganisation
6. We Did It Again
7. Why Are We Sleeping?
8. I Should've Known
9. That's How Much I Need You Now
10. I Should've Known
11. Certain Kind
12. We Did it Again

Added: November 5th 2006
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Cuneiform Records
Hits: 2281
Language: english

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