Soft Machine

Facelift

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In the early 2000s two record labels were competing to release archival recordings by the Soft Machine: the U.S.-based Cuneiform and U.K.-based Voiceprint. While the former dug up excellent radio sessions and live mixing-board recordings from 1970-1971 (released as Virtually, Noisette, and Backwards), the latter relied on much more challenging demo tapes and audience recordings. Facelift presents a complete performance by the quartet version of the group (Mike Ratledge, Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, Robert Wyatt) recorded from the audience on a small cassette recorder by Brian Hopper, April 26, 1970. That's four months after the quintet lineup featured on Noisette, a month before one of the sessions on Backwards, just a few days before the Soft Machine entered the studio to record the legendary Third. The set list includes all the material from that album and instrumental versions of the favorite cuts from the previous one ("Eamonn Andrews," "Esther's Nose Job"). Sound quality is typical of an early-'70s bootleg. Dean's saxophone cuts through nicely, but the drums are muddy -- don't think about evaluating Wyatt's playing that night. A couple of speed variations are temporarily irritating. On the other hand, the performance is excellent. Dean shines in "Pigling Bland," Wyatt's vocal solo in "Hibou Anemone & Bear" ranks among his best, and the introduction to "Facelift" is as magnificently torturous as it gets. But similar examples of this group's power are available on much better-sounding recordings, leaving Facelift for the completist only.

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