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Soft Machine - Breda Reactor 1970

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Artist: Soft Machine

Album: Breda Reactor 1970

Label: Voiceprint

Review date: Oct. 7, 2005

Here’s another installment in Voiceprint’s ongoing Soft Machine archival series. Along with Cuneiform, these prog stalwarts have been responsible for most of the vintage SM releases of the past six years. While Cuneiform boasts consistently better sound quality – and if audiophile recordings are a major concern, avoid this release and its companions – Voiceprint can claim equal importance on performance grounds.

Breda Reactor is no exception; recorded in the Netherlands on January 31, 1970, it captures a short-lived quintet lineup comprising Robert Wyatt as drummer, Hugh Hopper on bass, Mike Rateledge on keys and a duel sax team of Elton Dean and Lynn Dobson. It is Dobson who emerges as the hero of the set, providing some gorgeous flute workouts as the group plunges through material mainly culled from the second and third albums, the latter then still unreleased. Of special note is a brief prototype of “Out Bloody Rageous,” not finished by Rateledge for another couple of weeks and here inserted in the “Esther’s Nose Job” medley. It’s a chance for everybody to groove in five, Dobson’s reverbed and delayed flute and bizarre vocalizations rising eerily and wonderfully over the vamp. As Hugh’s brother, Brian, observes in the liners, the group had become more improvisatory after two members of the even shorter-lived septet lineup had departed, and “Out Bloody Rageous” shows that the change would soon bear compositional fruit. A haunting introduction to “Facelift,” with Rateledge Hopper and the saxes all buzzing and moaning distortedly (purposefully so, according to the liners) is also indicative of modal freedom to come in future incarnations.

Despite my grumblings about sound quality, this is without doubt the most listenable of the Voiceprint series so far. Brian’s joke in the notes about the recording being loud enough to warrant a health warning is really quite appropriate, but this only adds to the overall sense of urgency and excitement engendered by such dynamic musicianship. Wyatt’s drums are often buried, and his occasional vocal contributions even more so, but the recording is in stereo, possibly a degraded soundboard, and it conveys the enthusiasm and energy of the concert experience quite convincingly, especially as the second disc builds to “Nose Job”’s frenetic reprise and through a thrilling encore of the Kevin Ayers’ tune “We Did it Again.” This is a fine contribution to the SM catalog, both as a missing link and as a powerful performance document.

By Marc Medwin

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