Soft Heap

A Veritable Centaur

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Soft Heap indeed. This is none other than Soft Machine saxophonist Elton Dean with fellow proggers Pip Pyle and Mark Hewins with avant-rocker John Greaves. So what do you think this live recording from a French date in 1982 (with one track from BBC Radio in 1983) sounds like? Seriously, though, Soft Heap was a branch-out version of Soft Machine that had previously featured Hugh Hopper on bass and Alan Gowen on keyboards. This later incarnation of the band played mighty, mighty spaced-out, crazy-driven music that was freely improvised, but more often than not here sounds like warped psychedelia from another era (think No-Neck Blues Band). The interplay and communication between these musicians is stellar in scope and depth. They had hung around with each other enough for the previous decade or so to create plenty from nothing. None of the track titles mean anything because the music here is beyond the simple breakdown of selections, and it all folds together like some maze of hedges and flowers. Dean is more relaxed here than he usually is, not out front driving the band, but holding a part of the space for Hewins' shimmering, crunching, squawking guitar with tone extenders to boot. And then there's Pyle, who can slip into his old Hatfield mode at the drop of an arpeggio by Dean or fall back on the limber side of the kit and play sparingly with his hands. Greaves is the voice of sanity in all this if you can imagine it; his bass and organ playing provides atmospheric offerings to build upon and wind into for the others. What it all adds up to is sublime weirdness with a tender, emotional heart.

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