Soft Machine

Live in Paris

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The Cuneiform issue of Soft Machine's Paris Olympia Theatre concert is a straight reissue of the One Way set released in 1995 and quickly deleted. It features the short-lived but compelling lineup of Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge, and drummer John Marshall. Marshall was in fact the second drummer to be hired after Robert Wyatt's departure in August of 1971 (Phil Howard was the first), and this edition of Soft Machine recorded merely half an album together. It is one of the few documents of an entire Soft Machine concert available, and the sound quality is unusually good (as Soft Machine live recordings go). The material on the set is split pretty much cleanly between the albums Third and Fifth, with the band's fourth album being completely ignored -- Dean was writing wildly knotty jazz-rock stuff at the time and Marshall was just coming into the band from a stint with Jack Bruce. That said, this wonderfully spacy open jam material is solid, showcasing a band utterly comfortable with improvisation and in command of its use of space. For a stellar example check "Slightly All the Time" on disc one, where Ratledge and Dean weave through and around one another in the middle and simultaneously solo, taking the tune into the stratosphere without losing its focus. Another fine example is the stellar version of "Facelift" that kicks off disc two with elastic drum work by Marshall and a burning solo by Dean. All in all, though, these are ensemble performances, the sound of a band working together to get to they know not where but knowing how to travel. Highly recommended.

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