Soft Machine: The Dew At Dawn / (Slightly) Slightly All The Time

In 2023 Soft Machine - comprising Theo Travis, John Etheridge, Fred Baker and Asaf Sirkis - recorded reprises of Harry Beckett and Softs tunes

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Following on from the quartet’s Other Doors (Dyad, 2023), the Softs now have recorded a limited-edition double A-sided 7” single (and digital download). It’s a curious, albeit imaginative pairing, though. One side is Harry Beckett’s Caribbean-tinged The Dew At Dawn, first heard on the much-missed trumpeter’s Joy Unlimited album Memories Of Bacares (Ogun, 1975).

This jaunty, earworm-rich number is a poignant tribute to Beckett, who died in 2010 aged 75 and who contributed so much to the British jazz scene. Theo Travis’s liquid-toned soprano outlines the melody followed by John Etheridge’s ever-tasteful guitar and a lithe, serpentine solo from bassist Fred Baker. Baker, who played in Beckett’s later groups, appeared on albums such as Tribute To Charles Mingus (West Wind, 1999) and Maxine (ITM, 2011). Interestingly, this is the first non-original cover by the Softs but it’s a good one.

The other side is a highly truncated version of Mike Ratledge’s Slightly All The Time that famously occupied one whole side of Soft Machine’s pivotal double album Third (CBS, 1970). This is a brave move by the new line-up because the original tune was underpinned by Ratledge’s electric piano and Hugh Hopper’s inimitable bass guitar, but Etheridge’s glittering comping successfully substitutes for that element as does Baker with the Hopper part.

Soft Machine cognoscenti may detect a few fleeting spaces not present on the original but this facet is more than compensated for by the taut and clever new arrangement. Travis’s soprano on the opening passages deftly replaces the 1970s brass section and his subsequent flute solo is compelling. In fairness, it’s nigh-on impossible to replicate a classic composition such as this but the new Soft Machine was trying to give the old number a new spin and in that quest they have succeeded.


Discography
The Dew At Dawn; (Slightly) Slightly All the Time (9.29)
Theo Travis (ss, f); John Etheridge (elg); Fred Thelonious Baker (elb); Asaf Sirkis (d). London, 19 July 2023.
My Only Desire Records MOD007