Soft Machine

The Best of Soft Machine: The Harvest Years

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By the mid-'70s, Soft Machine had moved from the global Columbia Records family to Harvest, a British label specializing in U.K. and European rock bands. After their pivotal albums Fifth, Six, and Seven, the group acclimated guitarist Allan Holdsworth, and eventually John Etheridge, to their more distinctly instrumental jazz-rock sound, while retaining electric bass guitarist Roy Babbington, keyboardist and reedman Karl Jenkins, drummer John Marshall, and keyboardist Mike Ratledge. Long gone were the days when Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen identified the group's more hippie-ish sound, Robert Wyatt was a driving force in their collective consciousness, Elton Dean was injecting exciting creative improvising saxophone, and Hugh Hopper was their definitive bassist. But the band was moving away from sonic textures, somewhat retained by Jenkins and Ratledge, and merging into a preeminent jam band. This collection culls tracks from the albums Bundles, Softs, and Alive & Well, showcasing a prominently visceral Holdsworth, and to a lesser degree Etheridge. While "Bundles," to a larger extent "Peff," and especially "The Nodder" revised their collective feel and identifiable stance, you can hear the bandmembers drifting toward individual exploits, especially on "Hazard Profile," "Camden Tandem," and "Soft Space." A glaring omission from this period is perhaps their most beautiful piece, "The Floating World," hinting at an ambient electronic trend yet to come. If you are a Soft Machine fan, perhaps you own the single albums, or the comprehensive vinyl collection Triple Echo, housing selected Harvest-era tracks plus much more, as further researched and documented in Graham Bennett's stunning Softs biography Out-Bloody-Rageous. These 16 tracks are only a small slice of what this band had been and might have become, and chose to express in the time frame between 1975 and 1978 -- and in many ways, the Harvest years were a lull period.

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