Soft Head

Rogue Element

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AllMusic Review by

This band was supposed to call themselves Soft Heap and include drummer Pip Pyle, but though a tour was booked, he found himself otherwise engaged, and Dave Sheen was hired to accompany fellow Canterbury scenesters Alan Gowen, Hugh Hopper, and Elton Dean on a tour of Europe. Calling themselves Soft Head, they hoped to draw in those frustrated fans of Soft Machine and Gilgamesh. And perhaps they did on this night in France in 1978. But make no mistake, even though Hopper and Dean are present here, this is no pure fusion date with a bunch of knotty harmonics and angular changes riffing around all over the place. This is an electric jazz date, period. Largely this is due to Gowen's compositions and arrangements that walk a tense line between strictly composed elements and improvisation, and the fire of the band themselves, who are -- on this night anyway -- inspired beyond belief. Thank God somebody recorded it. Even at the risk of overstatement, Elton Dean has never played like this on a record. His legato phrasing is lightning-quick and moves through harmonic figures against Gowen's keyboards like a knife cutting through butter. Counterpoint battles are pitched and waged in these tracks, coming down to riding the steady yet flailing rhythm section of Hopper's modally expansive bassing and the avant-swing of Sheen's drumming. While everyone but Sheen contributes originals to the mix here, the arrangement signature is all Gowen, even on Dean classics such as "Seven for Lee" and "Ranova," or Hopper's signature "Seven Drones." The spaces for movement between members are held tightly by Gowen, who underlies everything with a chromaticism that is inclusive yet modally and dynamically driven. This is killer stuff that makes one long for the good old days of electric jazz that was still jazz.

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