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Soft Works

Abracadabra In Osaka

Review by Gary Hill

There is a real history behind this project. It's a lot more complicated and extensive story than I have space to fully convey in the space of this review. Let's just shorten it to this: Soft Works is sort of spin off of the band Soft Machine. This is a live album of the group performing on August 11th, 2003. The musicians on the album are Elton Dean, Allan Holdsworth, Hugh Hopper and John Marshall. The music here is generally of the fusion variety, but there is quite a bit of range within that heading. Sometimes even in one song. It's all instrumental. I have to say that all the musicians put in great performances, but (as I said in some other recent interviews) in my opinion, Allan Holdsworth was the greatest guitarist to ever live. So, for me he often steals the show here. However you slice it, though, I'd consider this an essential, must have release. It just doesn't get much better than this in terms of live fusion.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2021  Volume 3. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2021.

Track by Track Review
Disk One
            
Seven Formerly

Rising up gradually, there is a cool jazz horn sound at the start of this. The cut works out into some cool energetic, but still somewhat subdued jazz that gradually intensifies as it continues to evolve. I love the guitar solo later in the tune. The number really does move more into pure fusion, particularly as that guitar paints all kinds of intriguing and unusual melody lines. This is quite an effective piece of music that takes up nearly the first 13-minutes of the album.

Alphrazallan

There is a real sense of drama and magic built into this exploration. The number really expands and evolves over the course of its run. The guitar solo section of this is purely on fire, calling to mind some of the best fusion guitar work out there. I really love the way the drums seem to run counterpoint to that soloing a lot of the time, too.

Elsewhere

More than the first minute of this tune is set in a mellow sort of zone. From there the piece shifts to more of a powered up fusion arrangement. Again, the guitar work is really one of the aspects that pushes this thing from very good to sublime territory.

Baker's Treat

The horn arrangement that brings this into being is slow moving and sultry. This grows outward and has some really cool jamming. It remains a bit less intense than some of the other music here, but it is no less effective for it. There is a sense of mystery to this. I would also say that the bass work manages to show off in ways it doesn't on other tracks.

Calyx

This feels a little more freeform in its approach. There is a persistent and driving drum presence over which the melody seems to ebb and flow in waves like the tide. This is dramatic and intriguing, but not one of my favorites here.

Kings & Queens

I love the groove that the rhythm section lays down on this number. It makes me think of some of the best dramatic classic jazz. The melodies that are painted over the top of that are so strong, too. This piece just oozes cool in a way that's a bit restrained compared to some of the other music here.

Disk Two
                    
Abracadabra

This comes in with a lot of energy in a cool fusion arrangement. There is a freeform sort of sense to this, and the drums are all over the place. This gets incredibly intense further down the road, the horn screaming with passion and power. The guitar soloing later seems to be almost soaring over the top in unusual patterns.

Madam Vintage Suite

Textural atmospherics bring this into being and hold it for some time. There is a very gradual rise in volume and intensity. By around the five-minute mark it explodes out with the guitar really shredding in unusual lines and patterns as the drums blast away.

Has Riff
This is heavy and slower than some of the rest. There is almost a metal turned fusion feeling to it. This thing gets so powerful, and the guitar soloing is purely on fire. Yet there is still plenty of jazz cool in the mix.
First Train
I dig the tasty jazz groove that gets this cut underway. When Holdsworth cuts loose later, this thing turns the corner to fiery fusion zones. I love how the rhythm section holds down old school jazz amidst the intense guitar work. The piece manages to come back down to Earth in time to end.
Facelift
The opening movement on this really dances via the horn work. This works out to more impassioned jazz jamming as it continues. There's a nice contrast between mellower and more rocking sections. Holdsworth brings the fire further down the road with his soloing.
 
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