Soft Machine – NDR Jazz Workshop: Hamburg, Germany, May 17, 1973 (CD+DVD)

January 01, 1970



When one speaks of the Soft Machine, it’s understandable to associate the name
of this venerated avant-rock band of England’s psychedelic Canterbury movement
with that of its prolific former members of its first lineup: Kevin Ayers,
Robert Wyatt and Gong guru Daevid Allen.
However, the one original member
from the group who deserves the most kudos is keyboardist Mike Ratledge, who
served in its ranks the longest and saw the band evolve from its whimsical acid-pop
beginnings up through its strong presence as a jazz-fusion outfit before
eventually leaving the ranks on the band’s ten-year anniversary in 1976.


However, by 1973, Ratledge was the sole survivor of not only
the initial 1966 squad, but the classic quartet who created the Soft Machine’s
1970 instrumental masterpiece Third rounded
out by Wyatt, saxophonist Elton Dean and bassist Hugh Hopper as well. Yet
Ratledge kept calm and carried on with an able-bodied ensemble of expats from
the celebrated British prog-jazz group Nucleus (led by legendary UK reedist Ian
Carr): drummer John Marshall, saxophonist Karl Jenkins and bassist Roy
Babbington. Together, this lineup recorded Seven,
perhaps the most underrated of all the Soft Machine albums and one that found
the group veering into Weather Report/Return to Forever territory with seamless
aplomb. But prior to that LP’s release in 1974, this Nucleus-heavy version of
Soft Machine would perform a four-set concert in the spring of ’73 for an NDR
Jazz Workshop presentation that aired on German television, a show that would include
such guests sitting in as renowned English jazz saxophonist Art Themen, guitarist
Gary Boyle of the British fusion group Isotope and a returning Hugh Hopper, who
joined the band to perform “1983”, the last composition he wrote for Soft


For years, the audio and video of this performance have been
amongst the most sought-after artifacts in the group’s elite circle of fans and
appreciators. And now, thanks to Cuneiform Records (the Maryland-based indie
label who has been delivering us all things live and rare from the Soft Machine
archives since 1996), this NDR Jazz Workshop broadcast has been made officially
available as a CD/DVD package and stands tall as the most high-quality video
footage available of the group in all of its phases and stages. And, as a live
album, the audio on this beautiful two-disc set, complete with informative
liner notes and cool images of the performance, is definitely the loudest,
clearest and most pristine listening experience of this band in concert on the
market as well (though, unfortunately, “1983” does not appear on the compact
disc half).


Regardless of where you stand in the evolution of this
extraordinary alumnus from the UFO Club, if you are to be considered any kind
of Soft Machine fan worth his or her salt, do yourself a favor and add NDR Jazz Workshop: Hamburg, Germany, May 17,
to your library today.


DOWNLOAD: “Fanfare”,
“All White”, “Chloe and the Pirates”, “Riff II”, “1983” (DVD only) RON HART




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