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The Soft Machine - Virtually CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine

Canterbury Scene

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5 stars While this might be a difficult place to start for newcomers (and 'difficult listening' for those not into free improvisation), for those of you who are long-time fans (and I am one) I can say that this is the very best SM recording out there. This is the Softs playing for themselves, improvising and re-interpreting their own music (all instrumental), mere months before Wyatt left. Rivals 'Third' for sheer inventiveness, bravado and forte.
Report this review (#22137)
Posted Monday, February 2, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars Live board of SOFT MACHINE announced in 1998 "Virtualy". Work recorded in Bremen in Germany in March, 1971 that immediately after announcing "4". It is a composition of almost the same album as common "BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert" at the recorded time. However, this album is performed only by four people. It is indeed a brilliant performance.
Report this review (#49234)
Posted Thursday, September 29, 2005 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars In the last two weeks I have reviewed a few posthumous live recording of SM , and found a few superb albums that every Machine fan shopuld own! However I do not think this is one of them although the line-up present here is a classic one. The recording date should be among the last that Robert Wyatt played with them, before getting "sacked" (on his own admission Wyatt realized later that SM was the band that made him miserable) by Ratledge who did not like his singing.

I think that this night in Hamburg was definitely not one of their best unless you are into Elton Dean's work. Clearly he had taken over the band - maybe not in writing credits , but certainly in influences and he will soon be responsible for the hiring of Phil Howard as replacement of Wyatt, the band taking an even worse twist towards free-jazz , before Howard getting fired by Hopper and Ratledge. In theses tapes Dean is all over with his sometimes disciordant sax improvs and his rather good El piano in doubling Ratledge, but really , the track listing however interesting it might be is unfortunately very deceiving (IMHO) and most tracks being played in a much better version elsewhere but on this album. For once , Cuneiform releases a sub-par album (this remains a personal view point , because I have met fans who think this album is one of their best) , but this ios an exception. IMHO , you might want to try Noisette or Live In France.

Report this review (#52192)
Posted Tuesday, October 18, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars This album of all Soft Machine albums was my second purchase, after the critically aclaimed Third. I've decided to take time and break it down into good qualities and bad qualities:

GOOD -Improvational skills were incredible for all 4 players. Especially for Elton Dean. He could even be better at Sax than some old time jazz players. -Unique blending of style and mood swings. The progression from Eamonn Andrews to All White is one of my favorite moments in music. Period. It builds up to a point where the sax lets loose. -All of the songs written by Ratledge & Hopper were good.

BAD -Hard album to get into, you may have to listen to it a couple times to understand. -The songs composed by Elton Dean aren't anything special -Confusion in some parts -The bass wah pedal was not put to good use

But the album basically reigns supreme to some albums on this site and is highly recommemded.

Report this review (#66092)
Posted Sunday, January 22, 2006 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars 4.5 stars. This was recorded live in Germany March 23,1971 by Radio Bremem with the classic SOFT MACHINE lineup. Hopper, Ratledge, Wyatt and Dean. Of course the sound quality is excellent since it was a Radio Bremen recording. Most of the tracks blend into one another.This is just a pleasure to listen to as all four guys seem to be at their best, plus we get some of SOFT MACHINE's legendary songs.

Things get started with "Facelift" which starts slowly with fuzz and some sparse sounds that come and go. It starts to come to life more after 2 minutes.This is so good. "Virtually" opens with drums, sax and fuzz then the tempo picks up before a minute with drums, bass and sax out front. Piano joins in too.They just jam here, seemingly with their heads down. A calm before 5 minutes and check out Hopper ! "Slightly All The Time" settles in before a minute with piano, sax, bass and drums.The sax stops briefly around 4 minutes. The fuzz comes to the fore 5 1/2 minutes in. Great sound. "Fletcher's Blemish" settles in with vocal expressions from Wyatt along with other sounds.This is experimental sounding. "Neo-Caliban Grides" features more insanity with the sax leading early. Drums and fuzz to the fore then the sax returns. Check out Hopper again.

"Out-Bloody-Rageous" opens with bass and piano as sax joins in with drums. Some vocal sounds after 9 minutes echo. Very cool. "Eamonn Andrews" continues with the vocal expressions.Very psychedelic. The tempo picks up after 3 minutes and the vocals continue to echo until after 4 minutes whe the drums and fuzz kick in. Sax too. "All White" is a great sounding tune where they jam with some ferver. "Kings And Queens" settles with sax leading. Drums are more prominant before 3 minutes. "Teeth" kicks in with power but the tempo will shift often here. A very interesting song. Check out the organ and sax together before 3 1/2 minutes. "Pigling Bland" features keyboards, bass and drums as sax plays over top. The tempo picks up around 3 minutes. Ratledge's turn to let it rip then Hopper digs deep to end it.

I highly recommend this life release from one of the greatest live bands ever. The sound quality lives up to the performance as well.

Report this review (#323092)
Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars My house is full of Soft Machine albums, I have just noticed.

I love the band when they attacks songs like Facelift with a massive force of drums fuzzy bass, fuzzy organs and various woodwind instruments. For me; what makes Soft Machine so great is the power balance in the sound between the various instruments. If one of the instruments becomes too dominant, the whole dynamic becomes a lot less interesting.

On the two sets which makes this album, the late Elton Dean occupies too much space for my liking. This was some of the final sets Robert Wyatt ever did in Soft Machine before he departed. His drumming is still great, but he is left with little space on these two sets. Both Hugh Hopper and Mike Ratledge has been reigned in too and pushed into the background.

Another gripe I have is cutting Facelift down to ten minutes. Facelift in full flow is a monster and an incredible piece of music. The version on this album, the opening song, is pretty lame. This due to too much Dean and not enough Hopper.

In short; these two set which makes up this album is not Soft Machine on their finest. It is still a good live album, but it is still pretty low on my list of their best live albums. Hence.....

3 stars

Report this review (#423957)
Posted Monday, March 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
2 stars No newcomer should start here, since Virtually contains several of the band's fatal flaws and not so much of it's good sides.

Soft Machine was a band equally powerful live as it was in the studio, but with Dean's constant use of the saxello by the end of 1970, Ratledge's less time with untreated organ and more time with Rhodes electric piano, and Wyatt's lack of interest in what the band was doing make most 1971 performances sound lifeless and lacklustre, lacking a lot of the edge of the previous years. Another huge problem is the time spent with pure jazz jams instead of jazz-rock improvs, a move that reduces once-brilliant stuff like "Facelift" and "Slightly All The Time" to mere vehicles to stretch out without much direction.

However, as much as that stuff seemed to affect the band during that year, they were still capable of some exceptional stuff. The problem is, this release doesn't have as much of it as it has the aforementioned jazz noodling, and the thin sound of Radio Bremen does not help it, either.

All in all, this is a release mainly for completionists instead of the casual fan, but jazz lovers may want to hear it.

Report this review (#452376)
Posted Thursday, May 26, 2011 | Review Permalink

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