Soft Machine: Other Doors

Reincarnated in various spinoffs and legacy bands the past decade or two, the Soft Machine reappear as themselves in this 2022 recording

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Decades after what was assumed to be the final Soft Machine album, Land Of Cockayne (EMI, 1981), an unexpected rebirth occurred with the release of Hidden Details (Dyad, 2018). In between, a myriad of releases appeared under such names as Soft Head, Soft Heap and Soft Machine Legacy, sporting at least one alumnus from the earlier SM.

On Other Doors, guitar virtuoso John Etheridge contributes several compositions including the superb title track. Of multi-instrumentalist Theo Travis’s numbers, the labyrinthine Crooked Usage is gripping. Mike Ratledge and Kevin Ayers’ song Joy Of A Toy, an anomalous-sounding reworking, maybe an attempt to connect with the earliest roots of the band. More successfully, Karl Jenkins’ Penny Hitch is afforded an airier, fractionally slower rendition with guest bassist Roy Babbington, who played on the original version.

Babbington, who has now retired, also features on Now! Is The Time, a memorable duet with fretless bass guitarist Fred Baker. Now sadly no longer with us is the Soft’s long-serving drummer John Marshall. This is his final studio-recorded album and although his presence is certainly felt, his performance on The Dutch Lesson (Cuneiform, 2023) hears him on absolutely blistering form indisputably reminding us of his vital presence as one of the most outstanding musicians in British and European jazz.

One of the four bonus download-only tracks on the Moonjune Bandcamp site is Mike Ratledge’s Backwards from Slightly All The Time, first heard on Third (CBS, 1970). This track might have been better employed replacing Joy Of A Toy on the CD. This referencing back to earlier incarnations of Soft Machine appeared on Hidden Details with new versions of Ratledge’s The Man Who Waved At Trains and Out Bloody Rageous. But it’s difficult to divine whether the new Soft Machine is a partial tribute band or whether it is confident enough to plough its own furrow. Judging by the excellent Back In Season, a wry allusion to Jenkins’ Out Of Season from Softs (Harvest, 1976), it is more than capable of the latter.


Discography
Careless Eyes; Penny Hitch; Other Doors; Crooked Usage; Joy Of A Toy; A Flock Of Holes; Whisper Back; The Stars Apart; Now! Is The Time; Fell To Earth; The Visitor At The Window; Maybe Never; Back In Season (56.29)
John Etheridge (elg); Theo Travis (ts, ss, f, elp; p, elec); Fred Thelonius Baker, Roy Babbington (elb); John Marshall (d). Sutton, Surrey, 30-31 July and 1 & 13-14 August, 2022.
Dyad Records DY032