Rychard Carrington reports on Soft Machine Legacy – Cambridge Modern Jazz Club, The Junction, Cambridge 17 Nov 2006

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
Soft Machine, in case you didn't know, were undoubtedly one of the classiest of the 70s progressive rock groups. They did indeed bequeath a legacy of musicianly rock that, arguably - on its own minority-interest terms - has never been surpassed. Their uncompromising musical sophistication gave them an affinity with jazz, although the resemblances to Louis Armstrong or even Charlie Parker are very slight. Soft Machine Legacy is a recent reunion of players who passed through the band during the 70s, although one bereft of any of the illustrious original quartet - Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge and Daevid Allen.

Such musicianship constitutes a non-verbal language that can be a pure and subtle pleasure, or that can seem gratuitous, too far removed from music's raison d'être as emotional communication. I can go either way on this one, depending probably more on my mood than the quality of the musical content. But tonight it was stimulating to witness the inventive dexterity of (in order of distinguished service to Soft Machine proper) bassist Hugh Hopper, drummer John Marshall and electric guitarist John Etheridge. Saxman Theo Travis is also no mean player, but his fairly gentle style lacked the wild authority of the great Elton Dean, his Legacy predecessor who sadly died in February. They mainly played more recent compositions, rather than recreations of vintage Softs numbers, but, when it came to one, it was great to hear a satisfying live version of Hopper's Kings and Queens. Shortly afterwards came a powerful clattering solo from Marshall: as they say, you can't beat a drum.
A night, in summary, of thoroughly talented players relying less on the reputation of a seminal 70s band than on their customary musicianly prowess, operating within a territory which Soft Machine pioneered, long, long ago.

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Writer: Rychard Carrington