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Steam

Artist: Soft Machine Legacy

Date of Release: 21/08/2007

Catalogue no: MJR016

Label: MoonJune Records

Price: £9

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Track Listing

No

 

Title

Duration

1

 

Footloose

8.46

2

listen

The Steamer

4.38

3

listen

THE BIG MAN

5.08

4

listen

Chloe & The Pirates

7.27

5

 

In The Backroom

7.10

6

listen

The Last Day

5.20

7

listen

Firefly

6.41

8

 

So English

8.29

9

listen

Dave Acto

6.25

10

listen

Anything To Anywhere

5.20

 

 

 

 

JOHN ETHERIDGE guitar, loops
HUGH HOPPER bass guitar, loops
JOHN MARSHALL drums
THEO TRAVIS soprano & tenor saxophone, flute, loops

The group new release, "Steam", combines collective freely improvised jams with new writing from Hopper, Etheridge and Travis. Gone are the keyboards that so defined 1970s Soft Machine. In their place are modernistic sampling/looping and sonic processing, creating expansive soundscapes not possible during Soft Machine heyday. Between Etheridge broad sonics, Hopper's legendary bass loops and "fuzztonics" and Travis system of ambitronics - allowing him to sample his saxophones and flutes in real time and naturally layer unpredictable harmonies - Soft Machine (Legacy) often sounds larger than a quartet. Powerful rock rhythms, funky jazz-rock grooves and abstract interaction are interspersed with muscular soloing and dense textures. A modern look at Chloe & The Pirates from Soft Machine’s 1973 "Six" is brought into the 21st Century, anchored by Etheridge loops and the light but insistent groove of Hopper and Marshall. The group is driven by a tradition of experimentation and unfettered improvisational abandon that remains purposeful, hard-edged and exciting. The limitless possibilities of the band forward-reaching innovations will not only appeal to fans of 1970s Soft Machine, but to anyone who likes their fusion wide open, their jams loose and totally spontaneous, and their jazz combined with potent grooves and fiery energy.

 

Reviews

 

11/11/2008 DAVID LYNCH - ALL MUSIC GUIDE, BILLBOARD MAGAZINE (USA)

Listeners might be justifiably wary of a band with the word "Legacy" in its title, perhaps surmising that the group in question might be rooted a bit too strongly in the past. And in the case of Soft Machine, the group at its very best -- during the late '60s and early '70s -- confounded listeners by breaking from its own past with each album release, arguably throwing out its own nascent legacy (not to mention bandmembers) on a continual basis. In that sense, one might conclude that this 21st century band featuring Softs alumni might best capture some of the earlier group's spark and spirit by ignoring the legacy question entirely. Of course, the issue is one of balance, building on a foundation of great music even if that music is decades old, while continuing to chart new directions that are exciting and unpredictable in the present moment -- and that's exactly what happens on Steam, Soft Machine Legacy's 2007 release on Moonjune Records. Bassist Hugh Hopper, drummer John Marshall, guitarist John Etheridge, and saxophonist/flutist Theo Travis (in the difficult position of stepping into the spot formerly occupied by sadly departed saxman Elton Dean) are mindful of Soft Machine's history, and the listener certainly hears echoes (literally) of the Softs in the looping effects, fuzz bass, rhythmic inventiveness, melodic accessibility, fiery soloing, and general spirit of adventurousness. But there is also something new here: a cohesiveness and single-minded sense of purpose that elevates not only the group's "tunes," but also its approach to collective improvisation. The more straight-ahead jazz-rock material is handled capably enough and Steam can be recommended on that basis alone, but what truly perks up the ears are the several improv tracks sandwiched between the jazz-rockers, introducing a new dimension yet somehow fitting seamlessly into the whole. Following the capable but somewhat predictable post-Canterbury jazz-rock exercises "Footloose" and "The Steamer," "The Big Man" hits the listener with Etheridge's chunky distorted guitar chords that tip toward post-grunge, as Travis uses his array of electronic effects to harmonically split the notes from his soprano sax and the band heads into a murky, fuzzy swamp of sounds before the instruments emerge into an improvisational interlude and the tune simply collapses and dissipates -- and it's fantastic! What began as entirely competent -- even passionate -- jazz-rock is suddenly exploded, starting from a new place and never quite touching down in the familiar. "The Big Man" is followed by a beautiful, lyrical version of "Chloe and the Pirates" from Soft Machine's Six, and while the band is undoubtedly looking to the past here, the track is lovely and dreamlike, and a perfect palette-cleanser after the preceding track's sonic outbursts. The bright "In the Back Room" has Marshall and Hopper locked in a funky backbeat behind a unison theme cranked out by Travis (on tenor) and Etheridge, and the tune is a fine vehicle for the guitarist to unleash some typically fleet-fingered soloing over the top, followed by some soulful wailing from Travis before an extended vamp featuring multiple saxes takes over and rides into the sunset. This is a fun and perhaps somewhat lightweight tune, but once again the band defies easy expectations with "The Last Day," a return to free-form territory. Travis' skittering looped flute, Hopper's thick fuzz bass, and Marshall's rolling drumwork set an expansive mood before the bandmembers coalesce in spectacular fashion around a mid-tempo groove and brief thematic statement that is simple but dramatic, ending so quickly that the listener is hungry for more. "Firefly" is a jaunty, crisply swinging vehicle for Travis' stellar flutework, with Marshall's brief drum solo leading into tight unison riffing from everyone; the unpredictable suitelike structure here presents new thematic developments and another opportunity for Etheridge to cut loose before the number again heads into a free-form conclusion. Travis' flute remains prominent in "So English," with a free-floating intro (indeed recollecting "The Floating World" from Bundles) filled with loops and sound effects and setting a spacy mood -- but messing things up nicely around the edges with a range of tones and textures that are a bit more impolite than Karl Jenkins might have liked. Riffs and licks sail about over a spacious drone, drawing the listener deeper into extraterrestrial dialogues as Travis' soprano takes over a lead role with Etheridge following his every move and Hopper's monster bass and Marshall's accents staking out subterranean regions -- the energy flows away and Travis is left alone to wrap up the adventure with a subtle and lovely coda. "Dave Acto" follows, and with Etheridge's power chords leading into a nearly heavy metal unison vamp with Hopper, pounding drums from Marshall, and Travis' entry on muscular tenor, it is clear that Soft Machine Legacy are a band that means business. "Dave Acto" is pure get-down heaviosity, but Soft Machine Legacy are saving a powerful punch -- of an entirely different sort -- for the finale: "Anything to Anywhere," penned by Travis (who by now has definitely earned his entry into a band with "Soft Machine" in the title), is a perfect summation, catchy and fun, light in spirit, and with the kind of circular, insistent yet unpredictable vamp that marked some of the best writing of the Softs' jazz-rock period. With a killer hook, a spectacular and dramatic solo from Etheridge, lovely soprano work and looping effects from Travis, and crisp navigation of the rhythmic line from Hopper and Marshall, "Anything to Anywhere" has it all, in a concise package that indeed sums up a monumental legacy while demonstrating continued relevance to the present day and, indeed, the future

 

14/02/2008 DAVE CONOLLY - PROGRAPHY, USA

"Dean was done, resting in anything but peace among the wild reeds of Heaven. In his place was an empty space and to the right of it slightly stood Travis. Theo Travis is the well-oiled cog in the machine, not the sagacious saxophone wizard of yore but the lyrical and progressive piston that drives Steam’s engine. His sax owns tracks like “The Steamer” and “Dave Acto.” He flaunts a fierce flute too on “Firefly” and “The Last Day.” Steam is dark matter spewed out of a nuclear smokestack, a pungent unguent for the faithful who stood at the foot of the volcano hoping, praying for a furious explosion. Soft Machine by all rights should have been buried ages ago under a headstone marked with an 8 in repose minus 1. But even the death of Dean couldn’t derail them, and instead they arrived in the studio with a steamer full of good ideas. The only nod to the past is a version of “Chloe & The Pirates,” otherwise it’s full steam ahead for the fab foursome. John Etheridge seems to assume the mathematical mantle of Elton Dead, especially on “The Steamer” and “In The Back Room.” Hugh Hopper lurks under the surface, John Marshall skips across it like a smooth rock. It’s rare to find a progressive band from the genre’s heyday that still has something to say as Soft Machine Legacy does. Age allows them to articulate it better, a sense of adventure and a certain fearlessness make it interesting. There isn’t a track on here that doesn’t hold my attention, though “Anything To Anywhere” and “The Big Man” held it tighter, longer. Whatever they do next, I'm already on board with it."

 

06/11/2007 SID SMITH - SID SMITH’S YELLOW POSTCARD (SM IS ROCK/JAZZ/POLITICS/ARTS/MOVIES WRITER AND CONTRIBUTOR TO MOJO MAGAZINE, BC MAGAZI

“Soft Machine’s reputation as an innovative outfit grazing between the boundaries of jazz and rock often appeared to weigh heavily upon previous Soft Machine Legacy albums. The recruitment of Theo Travis following the death of Elton Dean last year, has added some much needed spice to the recipe as well as broadening the audio ingredients available. His use of loops on “Anything To Anywhere” restores both an electronic dimension and compositional complexity that also helped define the Soft Machine of old. Escaping the “heads plus jam” formula, it’s no coincidence that John Etheridge delivers his most incisive solo of the record on this very track. Group efforts such as the thunderous scrape of “The Big Man” and the Hatfieldesque twists and turns of “So English” benefit from Travis’ beefy workouts, adding an edge absent on previous Legacy outings. Both as writer and player, Hugh Hopper’s sepulchral menace is undiminished on “Footloose”. Whilst no one could ever question their right to trade on the name, only now perhaps is there a head of steamcapable of producing an album that can stand next to its illustrious forebears.”

 

25/10/2007 Dave Di Martino - YAHOO!MUSIC - WON'T GET FUELLED AGAIN!

“A great new recording by the British jazz quartet that arose from the ashes of the much revered Soft Machine, this marvelous disc features saxophonist Theo Travis as the replacement for the sadly departed Elton Dean, who distinctive sound was a hallmark of UK jazz for nearly 40 years. I strongly advise you to check out this band's work, as well as the other batch of releases from Moonjune Records, or eventually, um, an entire generation will perish! Yeah, that's what record reviews need to be like!”

 

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