The Soft Machine, “Hazard Profile” from Switzerland 1974 (2015): Something Else! sneak peek

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Historical live recordings from the seminal Canterbury Scene prog rockers Soft Machine continue to come out of the bootleg woodwork and onto official releases. Following meaningful documents from the formative days (Middle Earth Masters), the immediate post-Elton Dean/Robert Wyatt/Hugh Hopper era (NDR Jazz Workshop, Hamburg, Germany 1973) and the all-too-brief Allan Holdsworth era (Floating World Live), comes only the third concert album that covers the late-’73-late ’74 span when Holdsworth was in the band.

On February 3, 2015, Cuneiform Records will issue Switzerland 1974, a live performance of the Soft Machine captured at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 4, 1974. The band’s lineup at this time was Holdsworth (guitar), Roy Babbington (bass), Karl Jenkins (reeds, keys) and founding member Mike Ratledge (keys), a lineup that was as powerful as any they’ve ever had.

Cuneiform has teased us with a stream from one of the songs performed for this gig, the smoldering rock-jazz number “Hazard Profile” from the studio Bundles LP released in the following year. It’s the key track of the album, a circular, hard-grooving figure that gets continually permutated and improvised on in the classic mid-70s Soft Machine fashion. Marshall launches from a drum roll and never stops thrashing from that point on. After Jenkins’ soprano sax harmonizing on the main figure, Holdsy takes over and everything you love about one of the world’s finest fusion guitarists is on display here: his fleet-fingered precision, those trademark legato lines and knotty progressions in perfect sync with the rhythm section.

One advantage of the Montreux date over Floating World Live that’s already clear from this stream is that we get to hear Holdsworth’s solo in full, no cutting out at this critical point for a commercial break. We’ll get to see it, too, because like the NDR Workshop session, the Switzerland 1974 CD/DVD will include the footage from the show. Based on what I’m hearing from Soft Machine’s “Hazard Profile,” I’d almost expect to see smoke coming out of their instruments on the video version.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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