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Soft Machine

Release Year: 1974

Date Label Catalog # Comments
1974 LP
One Way (26256)
Added To Proggnosis Database on: 5/31/2003 12:00:00 AM
Entry Last Updated on: by:
  1. Nettle Bed
  2. Carol Ann
  3. Day's Eye
  4. Bone Fire
  5. Tarabos
  6. D.I.S.
  7. Snodland
  8. Penny Hitch
  9. Block
  10. Down the Road
  11. The German Lesson
  12. The French Lesson
Roy Babbington
Karl Jenkins
Keyboards, Oboe, Piano (Electric), Recorder, Saxophones
John Marshall
Percussion, Drums
Mike Ratledge
Organ, Synthesizer, Keyboards, Electric Piano

Reviewed by MichelF on 21 Dec 2008

The Seventh album of Soft Machine has always been very dear to my heart. When it was first released in 1974, I was not a fan of the band even though I appreciated the Canterbury sound. Then, on February the fourteen 1974 in the early evening we decided to have a lunch in the old part of downtown Quebec City. It was a perfect starry winter evening, cold, but almost without wind. During the meal someone mentioned that there was to be a show at the Capitol Theatre; Maneige was in town with some British group. We decided to take a chance and see if there were some tickets left. There were and after all, Maneige was such a great band. With our ticket secure, we walk to a pub and have a beer or two before the show. We came back to the theatre fifteen minutes before opening. The situation was very unusual for that period. No crowd waiting at the door, no stampede to get in. My first impression was that we were to be alone at the show, but not so. It was crowded, but calmly, everything was smooth. The representation unfolded; Maneige was excellent, as usual when they showed up, but Soft Machine was truly fantastic. I was an instant fan. I may be mistaken, but I could swear that Allan Holdsworth was with the tour on that evening. I bought the record the day after that impressive show. They played mainly and in continuity the album Seven, then stuff from Six and Five.

For me, the music of Seven was classic Canterbury sound, very near what Hatfield and the North were doing at that time. The fuzz organ, the sax and the jazzy percussions created an exquisite ambiance. Listening to it on a CD is fine and it is better than nothing, but due to the presence of Holdsworth, it was a very different experience live. They were no guitar on that album, and it is incredible we didn't notice it more after that show! As a matter of fact, they demonstrate that it was not a necessity. With this album, the band returns to a shorter piece format in appearance only, but in reality many pieces are tied together. Days Eyes, Bone Fire, Tarabos, and D.I.S form one long piece, as Snodland, Penny Hitch, and Block seem to be the same piece evolving. Finally Down the Road, The German Lesson and The French Lesson are also one track with parts.

The album begins with two Karl Jenkins pieces. First, Nettle Bed, is a jazzy and swinging track dominated by the keys.

Then, Carol Ann is an aerial and superbly smooth tune, very much in phase with what Weather Report was doing at that time.

The suite of Mike Ratledge which begins with Days Eyes still gives me goose bumps. Wow! That organ sound really did it for me (a sound which we could already hear on Soft Machine Two in 1969 on the piece, As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still). Bone Fire is a transition to Tarabos which continues the suite, but with a darker accent. Then D.I.S. permits to John Marshall some very interesting percussion.

Snodland, which returns us to Jenkins compositions, is an atmospheric introduction to the more Canterbury sounding Penny Hitch; this is another excellent piece to my ears. There is an aura of calm, an almost mantra like quality to those tracks. They still made me feel good. This second suite continues with the more intense Block, which pursues with the keys festival.

Down the Road is a jazzy piece which reminded me of the Nucleus album Roots (which is not surprising since Babbington, Jenkins and Marshall were former members of Nucleus), but with the Canterbury sauce. I know that some didn't found this palatable, but hey, its aesthetics... The German and French Lessons closes ambiantly this opus.

Seven remains my personal favourite among the work of Soft Machine. I may be alone in that view, but since that February evening in 1974, down memory alley, this concert is still burning bright in me.