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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Matching Mole

March

Review by Steve Alspach

Robert Wyatt once said in a “Musician” magazine article that getting sacked from Soft Machine was more painful to talk about than the “accident” in June 1973 that left him without the use of his legs. Now that’s painful. Wyatt left, or was pushed, from the Softs after their fourth album. Well, you can’t keep a good Canterbury jazz-rocker down, so Wyatt formed Matching Mole (a take on his previous band – “Machine Molle” is French for “Soft Machine” and rounded up bassist Bill MacCormick, guitarist Phil Miller, and keyboardist Dave MacRae. This album, recorded in March of 1972, is a spot-on document of where Canterbury jazz/rock was – heck, jazz-rock fusion in general. Be forewarned, though – if you thought Soft Machine was strange, you’re likely to think the same thing here.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
March
Wyatt starts off, his cymbals sounding like a match being struck, and he focuses on a steady crash of the cymbals. The rest of the band is slow to catch on but they do. After a short drum solo, MacCormick repeats a two-bar pattern, and Wyatt eventually follows suit. Miller’s guitar is little more than notes oscillating against the volume pedal or knob. It sounds as though Miles Davis of this era was a large influence on this piece – there’s really no melody to speak of here, and it sounds as though MacRae and Miller are trying to feel each other out.
Instant Pussy
It’s a smooth transition to this cut. Again, MacCormick holds anchor with a two-bar phrase (or a bar of 11 in phrases of six and five), and Wyatt comes in with his stream-of-consciousness lyrics, complete with dog pants, nonsense phrases (“Sheets of sound…sheets of sound…”), bird shrieks, and his bizarre vocalese that will find no middle ground among listeners – it’s either an immediate visceral charge or it will have you heading for the nearest Tylenol bottle. Miller and MacRae are content to hang in the background while all this is going on.
Smoke Signal
More structured than the previous two songs, this piece (penned by MacRae) is a smokier, jazzier exploration. Miller’s guitar solo is one of the most deliberate I’ve heard, short phrases with lots of pauses, as though he has to think what phrase he’s going to play next. After his solo, the band finds the same wavelength for the melodic opening section
Part of The Dance
Miller starts with an overlay of guitar notes, but then after a brief theme, he goes into a solo over a Zappa-like ominous pattern in 13. His solo, unlike Zappa’s, is not a flurry of notes, but again a series of legato lines. Wyatt, in much of this, seems to shy away from the snare, but focus on tom rolls and hi-hat. Again, Wyatt’s “vocals” jump in, repeating the riff, but as MacCormick and MacRae lock in on the riff, Wyatt’s vocals go off on their own. The song ends as it stared with Miller’s guitar.
No 'Alf Measures
Kevin Ayers wrote this one, so this is a bit easier for the listener to follow along with. Wyatt lends his Ono-esque prowess on this. MacRae solos for a bit, but he’s eventually content to play rhythm, and with MacCormick’s smart bass readings, the band connects for a lengthy excursion. Miller’s guitar pattern after a while makes the band sound a bit like the Grateful Dead on one of their improvisational journeys.
Lything and Gracing
Wyatt starts by cranking this up a notch on the drums, and “Lything…” starts with a driving six. Miller and MacRae share the same chordal riff, and then Miller finally shows some nimble flatpicking. The mood slows down as Miller keeps the spotlight. The band then comes back with the driving 6/8 feel, sounding much like Caravan. MacCormick then gets a bass solo, his bass soaring and diving as Wyatt plays counterpoint with his lively drumming. After the piece slows down again, Miller starts up with his fast strumming while Wyatt plays a solo to accompanying, and a fine solo it is. It’s a shame that Wyatt, in a year’s time, would no longer be able to play drums. He was one of the more underrated drummers in jazz-rock.
Waterloo Lilly
Speaking of Caravan, the title track to Caravan’s latest album at that time closes this out. Miller gets lead on this which gives the band a chance to have a little fun. Again, Wyatt stays extremely busy on drums, adding to the livelihood of this piece. The band, though, stretch the chaotic ending out, nobody really wanting to give up the last piece of sound to the others.
 
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