As part of the Bristol International Jazz Festival, Soft Machine [Legacy] played a stunning set last night at The Lantern, Colston Hall.
The current incarnation of the band – whose genealogy is expansive – is John Etheridge - guitar, John Marshall - drums, Roy Babbington - bass, and Theo Travis – saxophone, flute and synth. Marshall was ill so Nic France who has drummed with Nucleus filled the seat with aplomb.
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I'm not a Soft Machine all-knower, which became quickly evident throughout the short set that did, however, embrace a broad range of SM’s oeuvre, so when former member Karl Jenkins was mentioned, I was surprised, not realising he had been an early-ish one. But that is all part of the glorious learning curve. Like many, I have Soft Machine Third [a vinyl copy too] which is a classic, but that is pretty much it, though I do have Soft Machine Legacy’s SML and Steam, the former playing now.
This ignorance means I do not recall the titles of most of the tracks played, so apologies to those who are in the know, but there was a lovely performance of Hugh Hopper’s Kings and Queens, with Travis playing sweet echoed flute; another Hopper song Facelift, as well as the band’s second number Bundles which ignited the venue. [This is an additional note: having now listened to the Soft Machine Legacy's Burden of Proof more carefully, I note the performance of Kings and Queens is from this album's cover version; and I recognise one other song played, the live pulsation of the pulsing Pump Room].
The Etheridge/Travis tandem riffs and runs were superb, and their individual soloings were always virtuoso contributions. There were two fine solo slots for Babbington and France, Babbington getting an intro from Etheridge that recalled, as exemplification for many of these, his once disgruntled departure from the band.
Babbington having returned to play his current part, this was jazz and fusion and rock at its finest.