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Soft Machine - Floating World Live

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Artist: Soft Machine

Album: Floating World Live

Label: Moonjune

Review date: Oct. 11, 2007

Recorded for Radio Bremen in January 1975, Floating World Live simply churns with energy. At the time of this seminal show, the only founding member left was keyboardist Mike Ratledge. The bass chair was held down by Roy Babbington, supported by John Marshall’s jazzy drumming and the winds and keyboard work of multi-instrumentalist Karl Jenkins. However, it was the addition of now-legendary guitarist Allan Holdsworth in 1974 that brought about the biggest changes to the group. They recorded Bundles in 1974, from which many of this concert’s selections were taken. The album hadn’t yet been released when this concert was taped, but the band’s pleasure in playing all new material, largely courtesy of Jenkins, is evident throughout as the Softs enter their finest fusion period.

The new Softs sound certainly bore some resemblance to what had come before. Drones still abound, but now there is an ever-present groove, Marshall usually propelling things along with airy precision. “The Floating World” is a notable exception, an absolutely sublime trip through swirling keyboard and guitar repetitions, Jenkins’ flute soaring dreamily over the unfolding cycles. When bass and percussion kick in, the effect is miraculous, a gong introducing lush stereo, the bass, bells and cymbals bright and transparent. The build is slow, inexorable and majestic, the transition to “Bundles” as well executed as I’ve ever heard.

Everyone gets plenty of solo time on this date, but it is Holdsworth’s contributions to “Bundles” that stand out. Fully formed, his sound is unmistakable as he slides into a note, lays on that beautifully varied vibrato, hammers and taps; elsewhere on the disc, we get a chance to hear him on violin, an all-too-rare treat indeed.

I don’t want to give the impression that the other players are second-rate – far from it. Just check out Jenkins’ ethnically and multiphonically scorching oboe solo on the complex “Peff,” not to mention the audience’s grateful reaction. Ratledge drops a monster synth solo just before Marshall transitions into the unrestrained funk of “Hazzard Profile,” proving that this Softs incarnation could rock out with the best.

There are too many great moments to catalog, and the concert should be experienced as a whole. It is wonderful to hear this fantastic gig in CD-quality sound, and I hope Moonjune will eventually deliver some of the other Bundles era shows. If they do, they could rival the Hux, Cuneiform and Voiceprint labels as purveyors of a very valuable part of the Soft Machine legacy.

By Marc Medwin

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