Exposé Online banner

Soft Machine — Fourth / Fifth
(Columbia 493341 2, 1972/1999, CD)

by Jeff Melton, Published 1999-11-01

Fourth / Fifth Cover art

Support for the Soft Machine catalog and its movement to the digital age has been excruciatingly slow, to put it mildly. English label Big Beat did some excellent re-work to place Volume One and Two onto a single CD several years ago, and Sony Japan has released good versions of the middle section of the LPs onto CD. Finally Sony in the UK has seen fit to combine two of the best albums by the seminal line-ups onto one CD as part of the re-issue Rewind series. So let’s cut right to the chase: has the sound been improved through the re-mastering process? I purchased Fourth on the Sony Japanese label and Fifth from US distributor One Way Records. I can tell you that the sound enhancements are simply amazing. There is a subtlety, depth and clarity to the performances you haven’t heard until this release. Pieces such as the free pandemonium of “Fletcher’s Blemish” benefit from the Superbit mapping process with the distinct highs of Elton Dean’s brash saxello blaring out above the din. On top of that, there are three drummers generously spotlighted: Robert Wyatt’s last studio work is magnified as well as transitional drummer Phil Howard and final replacement, John Marshall. Each drummer’s nuance of tempo, and use of cymbals and bass drum resonate with a live feel which I hadn’t experienced before. The real wins are for Mike Ratledge and Hugh Hopper, for their organ and bass work respectively have never sounded as focused and integral. This disc is a perfect place to peg the Canterbury legend and the intricacies and finesse allotted to each individual contributor. And don’t forget Roy Babbington’s string bass solo. Now if only Third could receive the same treatment, I’d be twice as elated.


Filed under: Reissues, Issue 18, 1999 releases, 1972 recordings

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

Latest news

2018-07-31
Tomasz Stańko RIP – Tomasz Stańko, one of the greats of Eastern European jazz, has died at the age of 76. Stańko's career started in Krzysztof Komeda's quintet, where he contributed trumpet from 1963-1967, when he formed his own group. He worked extensively with Edward Vesala, Don Cherry, Zbigniew Seifert, Chico Freeman, Howard Johnson, Cecil Taylor, and many others. Many of his recordings have been released by ECM, an association that began in the mid-70s. » Read more

2018-07-09
Soft Machine Set to Release New Music – It's been 50 years since The Soft Machine changed the face of music with their first album. Their blend of psychedelic rock and jazz was unique, and while the band went through many changes before disbanding in 1981 — by which time there were no original members remaining — they remained an innovative force with a style all their own. » Read more

2018-07-01
7d Surfaces Happy Rhodes Back Catalog – We've covered singer Happy Rhodes before, both for her solo work and recently with The Security Project, but her 11 albums have been hard to track down. Until now. 7d features high-quality downloads of all her releases, and several of them are also available on CD. » Read more

2018-06-25
Fred Chalenor RIP – We have news of another sad passing in the world of creative music. Bassist Fred Chalenor, whose creativity featured on albums by Tone Dogs, Caveman Shoestore, and many more, died on June 23, 2018 after a long battle with Alzheimer's. Tributes have poured in from the many musicians and fans whose lives he touched. » Read more

2018-06-13
Jon Hiseman RIP – One of the great drummers of the rock era has died. Jon Hiseman was a veteran of such ground-breaking groups as Colosseum (I and II), Tempest, John Mayal's Bleusbreakers, and was a founding member of the innovative large band United Jazz + Rock Ensemble. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

D'arcana - Premonitions – The sprawling two-disc set at hand is D'arcana's third release, nearly two hours of ambitious studio recordings squarely in the modern progressive rock vein. This northern California trio is strong on...  (2008) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues