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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Soft Machine

Virtually

Review by Gary Hill

This album features a live recording from 1971. It’s one of the final performances of Soft Machine with Robert Wyatt. This skates between progressive rock, jazz and fusion. There is even space rock in the mix. Some of this is very freeform while other parts seem more plotted. The whole album flows well and it comes highly recommended to Soft Machine fans.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Facelift

The opening moments of this feel jazzy, but then feedback laden sounds bring it more into weirdness. As other elements rise up tentatively it drifts towards space jazz. The piece keeps sort of moving around in kind of a freeform way. Then around the two minute mark the rhythm section starts to rise up and lead it in new directions. Eventually they work to more of a pure progressive rock jam from there. Although this still seems quite freeform, they really tear through a lot of exceptional musical territory. It sits well along the fence bordering jazz and progressive rock. At over ten minutes, this is an extensive jam and connects directly to the next one.

Virtually
Seeming to fall into chaos from the previous piece, this starts to reorganize from there. Eventually it works out to a high energy jam that’s more jazz than rock. The rhythm section really drives it like crazy. By around the five minute mark it dissolves down to just a distorted, processed bass. That instrument drives it, feeling at times like guitar and at other times almost like keyboards. As a bass player I can tell you that I’m impressed with this solo. That bass carries us into the next number.
Slightly All the Blemish
As this comes in from the last one, the tune takes on one of the most cohesive jazz sounds we’ve heard so far. Saxophone and keyboards deliver the melody as the rhythm section provides the groove. This gets more experimental later, but the main groove remains, just intensifying as they continue. Eventually this takes it to the next piece.
Fletcher's Blemish
Coming in from the previous one, chaos ensues at first. Then it drops to a real space kind of element that moves it forward tentatively. Weird scat vocals are heard as the chaos continues. This makes me think of some of the stranger Hawkwind tribal stuff. Eventually that gives way to more of a freeform jazz jamming. That eventually takes the piece to the end.
Neo-Cailban Grides
Much more of a freeform jam, this works through some different sections. It’s a relatively short piece, though, at just two minutes in length.
Out-Bloody-Rageous
The rhythm section starts things here and they take it out into a killer jazz jam from there. They work this through various segments. At times it’s faster, at times slower. It’s a cool piece of music that manages to maintain sort of a cohesive air while still conveying a free-form approach.
Eamonn Andrews
Space music and echoey non-lyrical vocals create an intriguing atmosphere here. There are definitely ways in which this makes me think of Hawkwind. Around the four minute those vocals and space music are replaced by a full on jazz jam that’s quite intense. It doesn’t stay around long, though. Instead it drops to just percussion and then saxophone joins before it segues into the next number.
All White
Coalescing from the previous piece, this has a great jazz meets prog groove. The jazz elements really drive this, though and it becomes almost pure jazz after a while. Later in the piece it drops way down for a keyboard solo section. Other instruments eventually return and they take it out into a more fusion based jam that leans more on the prog rock end of that equation.
King and Queens
The jazz stylings are the dominant ones here. They take this through several movements, though. It feels more planned out than some of the stuff does. In some ways it makes me think of a cross between John Coltrane and Traffic.
Teeth
Weirdness opens this in bombastic fashion. They resolve out from there in a more open jazz arrangement, but the freeform nature continues. Eventually it coalesces into something a bit more cohesive, though. There is a percussion heavy movement near the two minute mark. Eventually a frantic jam that’s part jazz and part prog emerges from there. It continues to work through various section and gets a bit strange at times. 
Pigling Bland
This jam is more of a full on jazz number. It isn’t quite a straight line piece, though, working through some changes. It gets pretty free form at times.

 

 
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