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SOFT MACHINE Softs/Land Of Cockayne Esoteric (2011)

Soft Machine

Conventional wisdom has this iconic, cult band, in these its last gasps, more 'soft' than 'machine', cheerful experimentalism giving way to increasingly mainstream fare as founding scenesters like Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers decamped to avant-garde offshoots and solo-dom.

Despite its title, 1976's Softs has the pedal to the floor at times. The band's second release for hip Harvest, it continues the trajectory of predecessor 'Bundles', marrying bursts of energetic jazz rock with progressive flashings to the contemplative mood-pieces of earlier work.

With sole founder Mike Ratledge leaving and almost absent from the sessions, Karl Jenkins' melodic soundscapes ('Aubade') dominate, enlivened by scrabbling interplay between newbie guitarist John Etheridge and a supremely fluid rhythm section in bassist Roy Babbington and drummer John Marshall on the bouncing 'Camden Tandem' while 'The Tale of Taliesin' has both elements in spades. ***

While Softs rose to the surface, Land of Cockayne floundered. A 1981 solo project by Jenkins, it prefigures his transition to classical fusion act Adeimus via uninvolving orchestral jazz fusion, the more depressing given the presence of guesting luminaries such as Ray Warleigh, Jack Bruce, the band's former guitarist Allan Holdsworth, and all a far cry from 'We Did It Again'. **

Review by Peter Muir


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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