Soft Machine - The Best Of...The Harvest Years

Year of Release: 1995
Label: See For Miles Records
Catalog Number: CSMCD623
Format: CD
Total Time: 60:10:00

My only familiarity with Soft Machine, other than by name, is via this compilation The Best Of Soft Machine - The Harvest Years, which "is a belated attempt to put into perspective the many powerful, if somewhat vilified musical endeavours, [they] released during their final years of life." Or so begins the liner notes. The albums represented on this compilation are Bundles (1975), Softs (1976), and Alive & Well (1978); the last accounts for only three of the disc's 16 tracks. The history during this period is detailed in the liner notes.

The Soft Machine of this period I would describe as mainly jazz-rock, some of which wouldn't sound any different if recorded today, which either implies the material was forward thinking or that there are still jazz artists stuck in the late 70s. The latter may be true anyway, of course. "Hazard Profile Part 1" is lead by Allan Holdsworth's thick guitar, though Roy Babbington's heavy bass is strong in the mix. Holding it together is John Marshall's percussion. This is the longest track on the disk at just over nine minutes, most of the remaining tracks barely over three minutes. Holdworth displays some interesting guitar work once past the initial, repetitive refrain that almost goes on a little too long. "Gone Sailing" is the shortest at 56 seconds and is primarily Holdsworth on acoustic.

The track that grabs me the most is the last track "Soft Space" - eschewing the jazz flavourings this track sees the Softs going space, hence the title. This seems out of place here, but wouldn't on a Tangerine Dream album. Or as the intro music to Doctor Who, come to think of it. The staccato keyboards that provide additional percussion give the track a tremendous amount of energy ? in fact the drums (which sound processed) bring this track close to techno territory. In fact, the liner notes state: "Of the three numbers taken from Alive And Well, the most intriguing ? and exasperating was "Soft Space" [a track] that suggested they might be contemplating a cross-over into the disco/'Oxygen' audience!" The line up at this time was John Marshall on drums and percussion, Karl Jenkins on all sorts of keyboards (he also composed the track), John Etheridge on guitars, Rick Sanders on violin, and Steve Cook on bass.

And for any one who likes drum solos, there 2 plus minutes of Marshall banging all sorts of things ("Four Gongs, Two Drums"). The titular gongs have a very round and hollow sound - like he were banging thin, bronze tubing instead. Not sure if that adequately describes what I'm hearing, though.

There are parts of "Land Of The Bagsnake" that are quite nice both in the keys and guitar department. "The Man Who Waves At Trains" is a soprano sax led track that manages to sound quite contemporary without sounding like Kenny G. I think G has ruined it for the soprano sax in that so many soprano saxophonists play with the same tone and colour that unless you know otherwise, you'd think it was G. This segues into "Peff," which is another standout track ? they both are. Another sax highlight comes on "Aubade." "Camden Tandem" has a groove such that I thought they'd break out into a hard rock piece, a la early Van Halen; it doesn't go there, but there's a strong sense that it might. It appears as if the later material, before the spacey pair of "The Nodder" and "Soft Space" was going for a more fusiony, heavy rock-jazz style.

"Number Three" is an acoustic guitar workout by Etheridge that reminds me a bit of ELP's "From The Beginning."

At first I was going to say this was just an okay release, but in listening to it more and more there's more and more I like about it. How this truly compares to the Soft Machine of yore I don't know, but if this is their less inspired material, some treats await me.

Hazard Profile Part 1 (9:18) / Gone Sailing (0:56) / Bundles (3:14) / Land Of The Bagsnake (3:35) / The Man Who Waved At Trains (1:50) / Peff (3:45) / Four Gongs, Two Drums (2:23) / Song Of Aeolus (4:31) / Kayoo (3:30) / Aubade (1:52) / Second Bundle (2:33) / Camden Tandem (2:05) / One Over The Eight (5:23) / Number Three (2:25) / The Nodder (7:13) / Soft Space (8:17)

Roy Babbington - bass (1-13)
Allan Holdsworth - guitars (1-6)
Karl Jenkins - oboe, piano, electric piano, pianette, electric keyboards, synthesizers, string and mini-moog synthesizers, and soprano sax
John Marshall - drums and percussion
Mike Ratledge - organ, electric piano, synthesizer (1-6, 8)
John Etheridge - guitars (8-16)
Alan Wakeman - soprano and tenor saxophones (8-13)
Rick Sanders - violin (14-16)
Steve Cook - bass (14-16)

Soft Machine (1968)
Volume Two (1969)
Third (1970)
Fourth (1971)
Five (1972)
Six (1972)
Seven (1973)
Bundles (1975)
Softs (1976)
Rubber Riff (1976)
Triple Echo (1977)
Alive And Well, Recorded In Paris (1978)
Land Of Cockayne (1981)
Live At The Proms 1970 (1988)
Jet Propelled Photographs (1989)
BBC Radio One Live In Concert (1971/1993)
BBC Radio One Live In Concert (1972/1993)
Live In France (1972/1995)
Live At The Paradiso (1995)
The Best Of...The Harvest Years (1995)
Spaced (1969/1996)
Virtually (1971/1998)
Noisette ()
Backwards (2002)
Facelift (2002)
Kings Of Canterbury: Soft Machine (boxset/comp.) (2003)
BBC Radio 1967-1971 (2003)
BBC Radio 1971-1974 (2003)
Sometime In Soho (2004)
British Tour '75 (2005)
Out Bloody Rageous (Anthology 1967-1973) (2005)
Legacy Live In Zaandam (2005)
Breda Reactor (2005)
The Story Of Soft Machine (2005)
Soft Machine & Heavy Friends BBC In Concert 1971 (2005)
Floating World Live (2006)
Grides (2006)
Middle Earth Master (2006)
Live At The New Morning: The Paris Concert (2006)
Steam (2007)
Drop (2009)
Live At Henie Onstad Art Centre 1971 (2009)
Hidden Details (2018)

Genre: Canterbury

Origin UK

Added: May 29th 2000
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Hits: 1126
Language: english


[ Back to Reviews Index | Post Comment ]