Soft Machine: Facelift – France And Holland

Two-CD and DVD set captures the band with Elton Dean and Lyn Dobson in Europe in 1970, just before the recording and release of Third

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Soft Machine (named after William S. Burroughs’s novel, with his casual approval) had an interesting evolution. Initially an “art-rock” band, at one time passing through a more-or-less pure jazz phase, their main shtick was a convincing and effective fusion of prog-rock and jazz, with a touch of dada during Wyatt’s time with them.

These performances date from the period of Third, which featured the personnel heard and seen here augmented by Nick Evans, Jimmy Hastings and Rob Spall, and some of the numbers were drawn from that album.

Hopper and Wyatt, both of whom were in at the birth, provided powerful support and foils for Ratledge and the front line. (And they both made excellent solo albums.) To my taste Dean was, of the regular saxophonists, the one who best fitted in, and he’s on fine form here. Dobson is also excellent: alongside his saxes he produces some good work on flute (complete with hints of Indian music and vocalising channelling Roland Kirk) and harmonica (with vocalising channelling Wyatt?). Without ever descending into an obvious cutting-contest, Dean and Dobson constantly ratchet up the intensity and excitement.

The bonus DVD contains a straight visual record of the Paris gig. (There are a number of shots of the band from behind for some reason.) The disc also includes an audio-only track, a recording by an audience member which has an additional performance, a version of 12/8.

Definitely worth considering by fans of this period of the band’s development and maybe also of interest to the more open-minded amongst jazz-rock sceptics, this set showcases arguably the best edition of the band operating at their peak.

Discography
CD1: Eamonn Andrews; Mousetrap; Noisette; Backwards; Mousetrap (reprise); Out-Bloody-Rageous; Facelift; Slightly All the Time; Moon In June / Vocal Improvisation; Esther’s Nose Job; Pigling Bland  (71.23)
DVD: Eamonn Andrews; Mousetrap (reprise); Out-Bloody-Rageous; Facelift; vocal improvisation; Esther’s Nose Job; Pigling Bland (61.45) plus audio only: complete concert (audience recording) (88.54)
CD2 Facelift; The Moon In June; 12/8 Theme; Drum Solo; Esther’s Nose Job; Pigling Bland (44.39)
Elton Dean (as, slo); Lyn Dobson (ss, ts, f, hca, v); Mike Ratledge (kyb); Hugh Hopper (elb); Robert Wyatt (d, v). Paris, 2 March 1970 (CD1 and DVD) and Amsterdam, 17 January 1970 (CD2).
Cuneiform Rune 495/496/497