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Soft Machine: Drop

Very interesting archival release here from MoonJune, a collection of live recordings from Soft Machine's 1971 tour of Germany. Drop documents the brief period where the band dove head first into free-jazz territory, leaving the psychedelic and prog sounds behind for a wild and adventurous journey into charts unknown. Drummer Robert Wyatt had recently left the band, to be replaced by (ever so briefly) reknowned jazz player Phil Howard, whose exhuberant, reckless style is all over these tracks, as he attacks his kit like a jazz version of Keith Moon. Also in the band at this time were Elton Dean (sax, electric piano), Hugh Hopper (bass), and Mike Ratledge (organ, electric piano), but despite these familiar names, don't expect familiar sounding Soft Machine here. This line-up proved to be a fearsome, adventurous beast to say the least.

If you are at all familiar with the free-jazz period of Ornette Coleman, or Miles Davis' more fusion oriented material of the late 60's/early 70's, then you have a good idea of what to expect here on Drop. Plenty of frenzied squonking from Dean's sax mixes with layers of aggressive organ and electric piano, with Hopper's thick bass lines and Howard's acrobatic drum fills permeating each and every track. "Slightly All the Time" sees Ratledge's Lowrey organ working overtime, Mike's ramaping solos supported by jazzy vamps from Dean's electric piano while Hopper and Howard furiously lay down the groove. At just over 13-minutes long, this one is an extended journey into free-jazz freak out-ville that never loses its momemtum one bit. Hopper bubbles and boils on the more fusiony title track that also sees Ratledge mixing some wah-wah on the organ and then dazzling with a stunning solo, Howard continuously rampaging beneath with flurries of reckless drum barrages. Another highlight is the Soft Machine favorite "Out- Bloody- Rageous", another extended number with plenty of sax explorations by Dean, and when he puts the reed down he lends some tasty electric piano melodies which Ratledge and his Lowrey can then soar over. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Ratledge penned avant-garde/free-jazz monster "As If", a swirling, noisy beast of dissonant & jarring blasts from the band, a piece that takes you through dark, tranquil moments of beauty but then crushes you over the head with passages of uncontrollable aggression.

Chances are Drop is probably going to have a somewhat limited audience, but loyal Soft Machine fans will certainly eat this up, as will followers of the avant-garde/free-jazz scene. Kudos to MoonJune for unearthing this little lost treasure, which is housed in a nice digipack complete with a lengthy essay from Steve Lake.

Track Listing
1. Neo Caliban Grides 6:23
2. All White 6:14
3. Slightly All The Time 13:16
4. Drop 7:40
5. M.C. 3:25
6. Out-Bloody-Rageous 11:30
7. As If 6:10
8. Dark Swing 1:55
9. Intropigling 0:53
10. Pigling Bland 4:44

Added: April 25th 2009
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: MoonJune Records
Hits: 2315
Language: english

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