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Album Review

The Soft Machine were many things to many people, but to most, the real Soft Machine ceased to exist when founder Robert Wyatt left to work on his conspicuously titled Matching Mole project. This departure is generally credited to the Soft Machine's creative advance away from prog rock and toward jazz fusion. Three years and three records after Wyatt's departure, this creative motion was in full sail, and the release of Six cemented the band in their distant station beyond the gravity of anything that resembled rock and its spacious, cutting-edge sonics and more symmetrical rhythms. The jazz era that began on Fourth and continued through the '70s mutates slightly on Six, from the free improvisational structures used frequently on prior releases into a somewhat more constrained fusion design. This is due largely to new member Karl Jenkins, who makes a mighty impact on the Soft Machine's sound with his sax playing and songwriting — and who later took creative control over the group, bringing in several guitarists to solidify a fusion sound. Half live and half studio album, Six will never interest classic-era stalwarts, but Jenkins and drummer John Marshall lead old-timers Mike Ratledge and Hugh Hopper through some nifty fusion exercises that fans of the genre (and obscure '70s music of every kind) might find very enjoyable.


Formed: 1966 in Canterbury, Kent, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s

Soft Machine were never a commercial enterprise and indeed still remain unknown even to many listeners who came of age during the late '60s and early '70s, when the group was at its peak. In their own way, however, they were one of the more influential bands of their era, and certainly one of the most influential underground ones. One of the original British psychedelic groups, they were also instrumental in the birth of both progressive rock and jazz-rock. They were also the central foundation of...
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