Monday, April 26, 2010

Soft Machine with Allan Holdsworth

January 30, 2009—Soft Machine had a long and productive run and still exists today in the guise of Soft Machine Legacy. Sometime in the mid-‘70s the group had seven albums under their belt and were in a regrouping phase. Drummer Marshall and keyboardist Ratledge were still on hand from the second and first major phase of the group’s existence, respectively, but there were also several fairly new members as well—Jenkins on reeds, Babbington on bass. They switched labels from Columbia to Harvest and, most importantly, added guitarist Alan Holdsworth to the fold, a young, extraordinary musician at the beginning of his career.

The LP Bundles came out in 1975, simultaneously heralding the beginning and the end of this lineup, as Holdsworth left shortly thereafter to join Tony Williams’ New Lifetime. Just before that a live date was recorded, which found its way recently onto MoonJune Records (check out their site). That’s excellent music but I have already reviewed it for Cadence. Bundles was the beginning of this short-lived incarnation and it is really worth a listen for what Holdsworth brings into the band.

Yes, there is a subtle continuation of the shift from jazz-rock to fusion, if such categories ultimately matter in the long scheme of things. But what is most remarkable is how Ratledge’s initial concept and compositional clarity is widened by Holdsworth’s presence. And there are strong pieces by all members save Babbington. Misty minimalist excursions, forward-charging anthems and everything in between are present. It is a continually shifting prism of light twirling on a string. Well, no, maybe it isn’t. It’s great music. Holdsworth had then much of everything he was to carry forward into his playing with Williams and later his own series of bands: that wonderful tone and melodic sense, the rock drive and the dazzling runs of sophisticated note patterns. I am sorry I missed the album when it first came out. But it sounds good here in the new century. It sounds as good as anything out there now in this sort of bag. Grab onto the disk if you can find it.

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