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Soft Machine — Facelift France and Holland
(Cuneiform Rune, 1970/2022, 2CD)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2022-04-20

Facelift France and Holland Cover art

One undeniable fact with Soft Machine is that the lineup seemed to be in a constant state of change. The background for the concerts at hand (as well as the first side of Third) began in October 1969 following a successful tour of Europe after the release of Volume Two, showcasing the band’s new jazzier sound. At that point the band decided to add the four piece horn section of Elton Dean (alto sax), Lyn Dobson (soprano and tenor sax, flute), Mark Charig (trumpet), and Nick Evans (trombone), bringing Soft Machine from a trio to a septet (a lineup which is documented on the Cuneiform archival live release Backwards). By years’ end Charig and Evans has already split, bringing the band down to a quintet, which is the subject of this release, consisting of two early 1970 shows — one on January 17th in Amsterdam, and another from March 2nd in Paris. Several parts of the latter were captured on film for television broadcast, which comprises the DVD in this set, which as far as I know is the only time that the Soft Machine quintet of early 1970 was ever caught on film professionally, and an excellent job they did. The March 2nd set begins with “Eamonn Andrews” then moves into the “Mousetrap / Noisette / Backwards / Mousetrap (Reprise)” set for the next nine minutes, although the first two parts do not appear on the DVD (apparently it was a one hour TV show so something had to give). The set continues with “Out Bloody Rageous,” “Facelift” (featuring a short vocal improv by Dobson, as well as his harmonica solo at the thirteen minute mark), “Slightly All the Time” (cut out of the DVD), a short piece of “Moon in June” followed by Wyatt’s vocal improvisation, and then a shortened version of “Pigling Bland.” Listeners familiar with Third, Peel Sessions, and other live releases circa 1970 will be familiar with most of the material here, though without Dobson’s contributions. The DVD shows what a hard working unit the band was at this juncture, and is worth the price of admission alone. Disc two begins in Amsterdam a month and a half earlier with a shorter version of “Facelift” (with an unusual vocal improv and Dobson’s harmonica solo), moving on to the instrumental section of “Moon in June,” then onward to Hugh Hopper’s “12/8 Theme,” an eleven-minute slab of brilliance that never got the studio treatment. This is followed by Wyatt’s brief drum solo and a full length version of “Esther’s Nosejob / Pigling Bland” that spans nearly seventeen minutes, incorporating a couple more vocal improvs. The sound quality on both shows is excellent, and surprisingly so for tapes that are 50-plus years old. Kudos to Ian Beabout for a masterful job patching the full Paris show together from tapes that were broadcast and an audience tape of the entire set (that full Paris audience recording is included as a bonus audio track on the DVD). For all the folks (like myself) who thought that all of the early Soft Machine treasures had already been unearthed, Facelift France and Holland proves that there was still more to be found.

Filed under: New releases, 2022 releases, 1970 recordings

Related artist(s): Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt

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