We're going to get the superlatives out of the way first: this is absolutely brilliant. And this is one of those releases in the continually-evolving entity known as the burgeoning Soft Machine catalog that should appeal to both die-hard enthusiasts and novices alike, a totally immersive and compelling document of bristling, early 70s jazz-rock.
This CD/DVD set sets gold standards for numerous reasons. First, the audio disc comprises the first recorded live documentation of the Softs lineup circa the Seven LP, notably electric piano/keyboardist and founding member Mike Ratledge accompanied by ex-Nucleus stalwarts including bassist Roy Babbington, drummer John Marshall, and reeds player Karl Jenkins. Second, and to add further fuel to the aural fire, original bassist Hugh Hopper also lends his support to the performance at hand, as does erstwhile Isotope guitarist Gary Boyle, whose playing triggers explosions whole cloth across the lengthier jams. Third, and perhaps more importantly, audiophiles in other words, active music listeners who still care about such pithy things as stereo dynamics and finely-honed sound reproduction can rejoice in the splendid recording quality in abundance; from the moment the opening bluster of "Fanfare" and "All White" kick in, sonic cognoscenti can instantly rejoice at the pristine textures arcing out of their audio systems, each instrument mastered with utter clarity and a well-balanced feel throughout the sound spectrum.
Oh, yes, the music itself. Critics of later-period Softs be damned: here we find the coterie of blokes at the top of their game, producing a highly-charged music of uncontestable volatility and innate power. Case in point: the mere four minutes of "Riff" surge by far too quickly, as so much is condensed into that scant timeframe Marshall's electrifying drum cascades, Ratledge's e-piano clusters, Babbington's full-throttle bass lines and Jenkins' ripped-from-the-cosmos horns that it feels like the very heavens torn asunder for a millennium. Boyle gets in on the act during the ten-minute slow burn jam of "Down the Road", where Jenkins' spooky oboes provide support for both the guitarist's flexing muscles and Ratledge's puffing electrics to yield a potent strain of near improv-funk. In fact, the entire disc is a veritable treasure trove of discovery, the essence and vocabulary of jazz-rock and fusion revealed in all their nascent glories.
The DVD completes an already sterling package most effectively. The video restoration and accompanying audio is nothing short of masterful, as is the performance of course. There's something truly wonderful at being able to essentially travel back in time to witness, in sharply-defined tones and imagery, this collection of musicians making history. One must keep in mind that the usual live rock-band clich้s don't exactly apply here you're not going to see stacks of amps trashed or guitars obliterated on stage yet Ratledge's body language demonstrates a man in thrall and sync with his instruments, Marshall's practically a force of nature, and Jenkins' channeling of Coltrane-ian ghosts has him maintaining even strengths despite the levels of cacophony being generated. One can't emphasize the sheer joy emanating from every moment of this essential collection acquire now or risk missing out at your own peril.
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