Soft Machine were one of the greatest UK avant/jazz-rock bands of all time and their work continues to be name-checked by today's hip experimentalists.
Released for the very first time here is the Soft Machine's television broadcast, recorded for Germany's famous "NDR Jazz Workshop" on May 17, 1973. This performance was one of the earliest shows by the quartet of Roy Babbington (electric bass), Karl Jenkins (oboe, baritone sax, soprano sax, electric piano), John Marshall (drums) and Mike Ratledge (electric piano, organ). This was a very high profile appearance by the group and for this performance Soft Machine made it a special show. They performed a set of their repertoire in their quartet format and then for the second set they were augmented by two guests: guitarist Gary Boyle (who had just started Isotope) and saxist Art Themen. This addition brings an exciting & different sound to the repertoire and make this more than 'just another live release'. Additionally, Hugh Hopper had just left the group, but he makes an guest appearance (unfortunately audio only) performing 1983; the only known live version of this composition. This long sought-after performance has never been seen since its original broadcast over 35 years ago, not even in poor quality bootlegs. It is the single best quality video document that exists of the group, featuring clear and beautiful visuals and superb live stereo sound. The film footage is so clear and sharp that you can actually see the tape loops that Hugh had set up, hanging from the scafolding next to the band and you can read the address on the box next to Mike Ratledge's echoplex!
Above is the official preview trailer for the DVD.
MIDDLE EARTH MASTERS
"Soft Machine were the grooviest, coolest psychedelic band of the era..."-Phil Manzanera.
The Soft Machine were one of England's original and best psychedelic bands, emerging out of the same "UFO Club" London scene at the same time as Pink Floyd. While the band would always undergo constant personnel and stylistic change, their best known lineup in their psychedelic days was the trio of Kevin Ayers-bass, guitar, vocals, Mike Ratledge-organ and Robert Wyatt-drums, vocals. They played many shows and built an audience in swinging London and beyond. A link with Jimi Hendrixs management culminated in the Softs touring the USA with the Jimi Hendrix Experience two different times in 1968, playing over 60 shows as their opening act and recording their first album while in the USA during their touring, after which the band collapsed and disbanded...temporarily. Middle Earth Masters captures the 1967-era Soft Machine trio in full concert glory, recorded live at London's legendary Middle Earth club. The performance is unbelievably freaky for 1967, with songs that feature unusual structures linked by wild solos and improvisations. Those of you who know and love the first Soft Machine album will be amazed at how much more insane and insanely loud the band actually were and also surprised to hear that Mike Ratledge was doing the crazy solo fuzz organ parts (ala the opening of Facelift) in 1967. Includes rare, previously unissued photographs and a short essay by Michael King about these tapes and his work to make them sound as good as possible.
IMPORTANT: The source tapes for this CD were recorded using semi-pro equipment under difficult conditions, at extreme volume in a concrete basement. Considering their age, their rarity, and the technical limitations of sound reinforcement of 45 years ago, we feel that the music presented is very enjoyable! What this means in plain English is that the recording accurately presents the sound of a very loud band playing with an inadequate PA for the vocals. The band itself is very clearly recorded, but the vocals are often very low in the mix.
Soft Machine were one of first and one of the greatest jazz/rock bands of all time. Their importance and influence was especially great in Europe, where they influenced several generations of bands, and their influences can still be heard to this day in bands like Jaga Jazzist and beyond.
Grides presents the most famous version of the band (Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt) recorded live at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on October 25, 1970, in a high-quality, previously unreleased recording, just a few months after the release of Third and at the peak of their popularity. It showcases them in transition between releases, with the band performing 3 of the four works from Third, as well as some of the earliest recordings of material from the upcomming Fourth, including some very different arrangements to what would eventually end up on that release. In addition, it features the earliest recording of Elton's Neo-Caliban Grides, which has a fairly lengthy composed section that was never heard again.
Also included in this set is the first-ever DVD release by Soft Machine! It was recorded at the TV studios of Radio Bremen on the same date (March 23, 1971) as the radio session that Cuneiform released as Virtually, but is a completely different performance. This was the band's final European tour with Robert Wyatt and is a 20 minute set, professionally recorded by a multicamera crew. The audio and video quality is excellent for the time period (over 35 years old now!), as we worked from the original videotape master in the archives of Radio Bremen. Bottom line: another excellent and essential archival release from a great band!
"Soft Machine...certainly rank among the most influencial 'out' rock bands." Dusted
Live on Beat Club 1971
LIVE IN PARIS
The Soft Machine line-up of Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Marshall and Mike Ratledge lasted under half a year and recorded just one half of an album (side two of "5"). Live in Paris is a rare recording of this quartet during that lineup's final days; Dean left Soft Machine later that month. It is also a special, rare example of a Soft Machine concert recorded and released in its entirety. Live in Paris shows Soft Machine playing in top form. As Aymeric Leroy points out in the liner notes, "the music illustrates main composers Ratledge and Hopper's shift in compositional style towards looser and more minimalistic themes." The tracklisting consists of works from "Third" and "5" in often significantly different versions, as well as several piece not recorded elsewhere. This excellent quality release is taken from the less than 2 dozen shows performed by this version of the band, and shows that despite such a short life, that this version of the quartet definitely had their own style and sound.
"The Cuneiform label continues with its excellent job of documenting obscure and sought after Soft Machine recordings from the late '60s and early '70s." Jazzwise
Backwards is the fourth in our Soft Machine archival series. While I am really proud of all of our Soft Machine releases, this one is really special & something perhaps even close to magnificent. Backwards is comprised of recordings from three different and interesting eras of the band: First on the CD is a recording of the quartet from May, 1970, made just about the time that the band had finished recording their Third album. The recording is mono, but the sonic quality is superb; this may be the single finest recording of the quartet version of the band, surpasing even their official studio relases. Next is two performances from November, 1969, featuring the septet version of Soft Machine. Since the only other available material by this version of the band is 20' of BBC recordings, this is an invaluable addition to the band's recorded legacy. Lastly there is Robert Wyatt's original demo of "Moon In June", which would eventually appear on Third. The first half of this demo version was recorded in the USA in the fall of 1968, after Soft Machine had disbanded after their 2nd US tour, but before the band reformed for their 2nd album. Then, in 1969, the trio version of Soft Machine recorded the ending to their piece, and spliced on the final half. As I said before, this one is special, & anyone remotely interested in what was happening in English progressive music-jazz/rock (before it became known as jazz/rock) should be extremely happy with this release.
"...a magnificent document of one of the most vital jazz/rock fusion outfits to ever come down the pike." ejazznews
Noisette is the third in our Soft Machine series, recorded January 4th, 1970 at the same concert as "Facelift" on Third, by the short-lived quintet formation of the group: Elton Dean & Lyn Dobson-reeds, Hugh Hopper-bass, Mike Ratledge-keyboards & Robert Wyatt-drums & vocals.
Noisette features the rest of the concert, & showcases a band in transition from their earlier psychedelic/ progressive sound towards the jazz rock sound of Third & Fourth. It features the quintet performing versions of material from their 1st two albums as well as material not available on their studio albums. Mastered directly off of the 40 year old 15ips master tapes, this release boasts superb live sound for the time period, & includes rare, unseen photos and liner notes by Aymeric Leroy.
"...Britain's best answer to electric Miles Davis" Pulse
The previously unreleased show captured on Virtually, recorded 3/23/71, presents the classic quartet Softs [Elton Dean/Mike Ratledge/Hugh Hopper/Robert Wyatt] during their final European tour & just 4 months before their dissolution.
The recording [licensed from German radio & taken from the master tapes] is superb for the time period, & the performance really sparkles, with everyone shinning, although special note must be made of Robert's drumming, as he plays with more gusto on this show than most from this period. With versions of all the tracks from Fourth, most of Third and much more, this 78' release, which captures the entire concert, is absolutely essential for any Soft Machine fan.
"...an innovative union of jazz and rock." Downbeat
Spaced is previously unreleased studio recordings recorded in early/mid 1969 by the "classic" Soft Machine trio line-up of Hugh Hopper [bass], Mike Ratledge [electric piano/organ] and Robert Wyatt [drums]. These heavily manipulated/ looped/etc. recordings were originally presented as the backdrop to a multi-media work entitled Spaced. After it's week-long performance, the tapes were forgotten for over two decades until rediscovered by Mike King. These recordings feature the band at their most radical, and while they would never again use the studio in such an extreme fashion, the work done here definitely influenced later works such as Third and Hugh's 1984. With liner notes by Hugh and Bob Woolford.
"...Spaced encapsulates an invigorating divination of gloomy psychedelia/Kluster-meets-Albert Ayler freedom...it sounds like psilocybin heaven."-The Wire.
"Radically savage or wot! But I still like it." - Hugh Hopper, upon hearing the tapes for the 1st time since 1969.