By 1973, Soft Machine was down to one original member, organist Mike Ratledge, and three former Nucleus members, sax and pianist Karl Jenkins, bassist Roy Babbington and drummer John Marshall. The band then switched labels to EMI's Harvest Records, and in an act unprecedented since their very beginnings, forwent with numbering for their next album's title, Bundles. Also, unprecedented since their first single (though perhaps precipitated by an NDR session with Isotope's Gary Boyle in 1973), was the arrival of a guitarist, Allan Holdsworth. Here, Soft Machine come close to reinventing themselves. The opening bars of "Hazard Profile Part One" reveal a modern jazz-rock, with of course, the guitar as the focus. Holdsworth is the main soloist, and certainly he picked up a thing or two from Ollie Halsall since we last heard him in Tempest. The following "Part Two (Toccatina)" goes acoustic, and after a few more brief "Parts," Ratledge lets loose on the synthesizer for "Part Five." The second side's "Bundles" and "Land Of The Bag Snake" further the band's new design; Marshall's drumming in particular shines, as does the mix of electric piano and organ. The Ratledge-penned "The Man Who Waved at Trains" and "Peff" offer some jazz, while Jenkin's closing "The Floating World" indeed floats effortlessly off into a dream. The album was recorded following the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 1974, though released almost a year later on Harvest. Released in June 1976, Softs was musically similar, but would see further change in personnel. Ratledge would depart before the album's completion, ending the last vestige with Softs' original lineup, while Holdsworth had already followed his nomadic spirit to The New Tony Williams Lifetime. His replacement, guitarist John Etheridge, had previously played in Darryl Way's Wolf, followed by a quick stint with Global Trucking Village Company, while saxophonist Alan Wakeman, a cousin of Rick Wakeman, allowed Jenkins full keyboard duties. It would be the last studio album from Soft Machine for nearly five years.
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Taken from The Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock, here is an Album of the Week to enjoy and discuss.
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