Soft Machine Legacy
It all too common to hear of reunion bands that are nothing more than tired retreads of past glories. Soft Machine (Legacy) is something completely different: a band that references the spirit of its roots in seminal British jazz/rock group Soft Machine while avoiding literal homage. The members of Soft Machine (Legacy) demonstrate that the best artists are those who look forward – and if they do occasionally glance back, it from a fresh vantage point.
If Soft Machine constantly changing personnel resulted in equally constant stylistic shifts – from the psychedelic post-Dadaist pop of its early days, to the abstruse writing and jagged free improvisation of its middle period and fusion-centric final days – it was because every member brought a different perspective to the band. The same philosophy applies today to Soft Machine (Legacy), although the broader diversity of environments everyone has seen since those early days creates an opportunity for even greater musical cross-pollination.
The original Soft Machine Legacy line-up, a continuation of the short-lived Soft Works (Allan Holdsworth, Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Marshall; June 2002-February 2004), came together in October of 2004, featuring bassist Hugh Hopper and saxophonist/pianist Elton Dean – members of what many consider to be the classic Soft Machine group responsible for 1970 “Third”, 1971 “Fourth” and 1972’s “Fifth”. Guitarist John Etheridge joined Soft Machine in 1975 replacing Allan Holdsworth, and was featured on 1976 “Softs” and 1978 “Alive & Well: Recorded in Paris”. Drummer John Marshall joined Soft Machine halfway through the sessions for 1972 “Fifth”. Remaining with the band until it folded in the early 1980s, he the link that tied the original Soft Machine Legacy together – the only member to have played with Hopper, Dean and Etheridge. When Dean passed away unexpectedly in February of 2006, woodwind multi-instrumentalist Theo Travis was recruited, bringing a fresh perspective and youthful edge to this evolutionary and unequivocally contemporary group.
Travis has recorded space rock with psychedelic jam band Gong, ambient electronica with Cipher and contemporary jazz with a Canterbury slant on his own albums including 2004 “Earth to Ether”, and was occasional member on some Phil Miller In Cahoots and Hatfield & The North live appearances. With Soft Machine (Legacy) he adds his own eclecticism to Hopper oblique and sometimes riff-based writing, Etheridge high velocity rock edge and Marshall powerful ability to both interact and groove, regardless of context. Together, the forward-thinking mindset, history and experience that unite Hopper, Etheridge, Marshall and Travis make Soft Machine (Legacy) a thoroughly modern group with limitless possibilities.
Two records for MoonJune – 2005 “Live in Zandaam” and the eponymous 2006 studio follow-up, both with Dean, and DVD “New Morning, Paris Concert” on German label In-Akustik, made it clear that this was no mere grab at nostalgia, while still only scratching the surface of the group potential.
While occasionally breathing new life into classic Soft Machine compositions, the emphasis is on new material that provides ample space for exploration and interaction. With Etheridge and Hopper already utilizing real-time sampling and looping, the addition of Travis and his remarkable system of ambitronics promises to further expand the sonic potential of Soft Machine (Legacy). Travis may not have played in Soft Machine but he grew up influenced by the group and is an equal part of the adventurous spirit that has been carried forward into Soft Machine Legacy.
With the new album that promises to be even harder-edged and open-ended than its previous efforts, Soft Machine (Legacy) is that rarest of groups – a collection of musicians with a shared history, linked together in a tradition of experimentation and unfettered improvisational abandon. No dinosaur band this, Soft Machine (Legacy) is a group who may occasionally glance to the past, but only with both feet moving inevitably towards the future.
The group’s new release, “Steam”, combines collective freely improvised jams with new writing from Hopper, Etheridge and Travis. Gone are the keyboards that so defined 1970s Soft Machine. In their place are modernistic sampling/looping and sonic processing, creating expansive soundscapes not possible during Soft Machine heyday. Between Etheridge broad sonics, Hopper’s legendary bass loops and “fuzztonics” and Travis system of ambitronics – allowing him to sample his saxophones and flutes in real time and naturally layer unpredictable harmonies – Soft Machine (Legacy) often sounds larger than a quartet.
Powerful rock rhythms, funky progressive jazz-rock grooves and abstract interaction are interspersed with muscular soloing and dense textures. A modern look at Chloe & The Pirates from 1973 “Six” is brought into the 21st Century, anchored by Etheridge loops and the light but insistent groove of Hopper and Marshall. The group is driven by a tradition of experimentation and unfettered improvisational abandon that remains purposeful, hard-edged and exciting.
The limitless possibilities of the band forward-reaching innovations will not only appeal to fans of 1970s Soft Machine, but to anyone who likes their fusion wide open, their jams loose and totally spontaneous, and their jazz combined with potent grooves and fiery energy.