Half Notes: The Soft Machine – NDR Jazz Workshop – Hamburg, Germany, 1973 (2010)

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by S. Victor Aaron

Hard to believe it’s been over three years since a Soft Machine record was last scoped out here, but that’s only half the time frame between the live dates between The Middle Earth Masters and this one from May, 1973, called NDR Jazz Workshop – Hamburg, Germany, 1973. Although never before released, the audio from West Germany’s Norddeutscher Rundfunk is exemplary, and since this was taped for a TV show, there’s video for most of these tracks, too, included in an accompanying DVD. By this time, Mike Ratledge is the only remaining original member and their second, “classic lineup” bassist Hugh Hopper had just officially left the band that day (but appears for one track, the tape loop trippin’ “1983.” The rest of the lineup includes Karl Jenkins (woodwinds, keyboards), Ron Babbington (bass) and John Marshall (drums) grafted in from Nucleus (Marshall would go on to join Eberhard Weber’s Colors a few years later). A document of two of the four sets performed, one of the sets are supplemented by a guitarist Gary Boyle and sax player Art Themen. The music by this time is full-fledged instrumental rock-jazz, and the Softs had become masters of creating elliptical rifts on the spot and improvise hard and thoughtfully from it. The additional players provide a hint of what the band will sound like when a guitar player was added full time. The additional reason for existing Soft Machine fans to pick this one up is because this is the only live, non-bootlegged release from this post-Robert Wyatt lineup, one that set the tone for the Softs’ last, underrated phase. Props to Cuneiform for bringing this to the light of day.

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