Soft Machine - The Dutch Lesson

Soft Machine – The Dutch Lesson

Soft Machine are best known – or should be – as being one of the originators of electric jazz/rock going back as far as early 1969. They were continually creative within their songwriting and in the live arena, inventive, forward thinking, breaking down barriers and forging their distinctive style, and those talents continue today with the current line-up. By the early Seventies they were well known as an exciting live prospect and by 1973 they already had a long record of playing in Rotterdam, appearing at major festivals and also four appearances at the famous De Doelen. On this occasion they were booked into a smaller more intimate venue known as Ons Huis, De Lantaren, Rotterdam on the 26th October 1973. This venue had a capacity of 400, which the band appear to have easily filled.

On that October night, the audience included someone named Bert Boogaard, a record store owner at the time, who was sitting in the front row with an Uher portable tape machine which he used to capture this event. Many thanks must go to him for this excellent ambient recording, although some may say it’s marred by occasional saturation in the drums. But then, how would anybody anticipate how powerful and loud John Marshall’s playing was? This does not spoil the recording of this performance for me, indeed it enhances it, giving a feel of its time that reminds us all how difficult it is to record performances.

The package comes in a two CD format or digital and contains an informative booklet with some interesting photos by Guy Mas. The mastering is by Ian Beabout at ShedSounds Studio, and he has done a very fine job. The fifteen tracks are spread across the two CDs, with eleven on the first. At the time of recording, the band were touring in support of their albums Six and Seven, although this set leans heavily on songs from Six, with Seven represented by a single track. This may be due to the amount of overdubbing on Seven, which made it difficult to play in the live setting at this time. Maybe due to this, shortly after this gig the band expanded to a quintet with Alan Holdsworth joining the ranks.

What is clear throughout this recording is that this is a band who are powerful, precise, extremely talented, but also very exciting. This is a very good recording, for what used to be know as a “bootleg”, although with Bert sat in front row I guess he had the band’s blessing. What does shine through is the bands intuitive playing, each knowing what’s needed from them. John Marshall’s drums are almost front and centre, powerful and precise. He is supported by Roy Babbington with some excellent bass work while Karl Jenkins’s sax and oboe has great interplay with Mike Ratledge’s electric piano and organ.

This intuitive playing is demonstrated so well, for example, on track nine, 37 1/2, with some great drumming and bass work, the prominent sax supported by an incessant electric piano which appears to be slightly in the background. They all set up the groove and run with it. In contrast, Chloe and the Pirates starts with a slow and gradual build up, with the oboe taking the lead, ably supported by electric piano. The song is always on the cusp of exploding into a furious groove, but they show great discipline to hold the groove throughout, leaving you wanting more. These two examples show the diversity between tracks, the band shifting effortlessly through the gears to propel the song forward, or indeed hold things together in a very disciplined way.

This recording gives the listener a great feeling of the raw and powerful performances that the band was known for at this time. There is so much to enjoy here and this release will probably be a must buy for Soft Machine fans as it would boost any collection. For the uninitiated, this could be a good place to start if you prefer live recordings of a band at the top of their game – and that really shines through here. A very good release, go on give it a listen.

CD 1:

01. Stanley Stamps Gibbons Album (7:16)
02. Between (2:12)
03. The Soft Weed Factor (11:05)
04. Lefty (1:58)
05. Gesolreut (9:30)
06. EPV (4:33)
07. Down the Road (10:40)
08. Ealing Comedy (5:33)
09. 37 1/2 (7:17)
10. J.S.M. (4:39)
11. Riff II (0:41)

Time – 65:24

CD 2:
12. Chloe and the Pirates (9:57)
13. Hazard Profile (13:56)
14. Improvisation (5:20)
15. Gesolreut Jam (7:41)

Time – 36:54

Total Time – 102:22

Roy Babbington – Electric 6-string Bass
Karl Jenkins – Soprano & Baritone saxophones, Oboe, Electric Piano
John Marshall – Drums
Mike Ratledge – Electric Piano, Organ

Record Label: Cuneiform Records
Catalogue#: Rune 490/491
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 28th April 2023

Soft Machine – Website