Exposé print issues (1993-2011)
Soft Machine — Other Doors
(Moonjune MJR130, 2023, CD / LP / DL)
by Peter Thelen, Published 2023-10-03
One can always be certain of one thing with Soft Machine, and that’s the element of change, especially with respect to personnel. Bassist Roy Babbington retired from the band a year or so following 2019’s Live at the Baked Potato, having been the band’s bassist since replacing Hugh Hopper after Six in 1973, although he did return as a special guest on a couple cuts on Other Doors; he has been replaced by Fred Thelonious Baker, now on fretless bass, who has a long list of credentials with Phil Miller’s In Cahoots, Elton Dean, and Harry Beckett, just to name a few of many previous associates. Drummer John Marshall had been with Soft Machine since the second side of Fifth way back in 1972, and although he had planned to retire after the current album at the age of 82, his retirement didn’t last long though, as he passed away on September 16th of this year. The remainder of the lineup — keyboardist and woodwind player Theo Travis and guitarist extraordinaire John Etheridge — carry on from the previous studio album Hidden Details in 2018. The band has survived many previous changes through the years and Other Doors is no different, they progress forward while respectfully honoring all their previous achievements as only Soft Machine can. The addition of Baker’s fretless bass has given their sound a fresh element that seems to work superbly with Etheridge’s guitar and Travis’ wind section, as clearly evidenced in Travis’ “Crooked Usage,” the wandering improv which bears some vague similarities to the opening section of the band’s classic “Facelift.” All of the pieces here, with the exception of “Penny Hitch” and “Joy of a Toy” are newly written expressly for this album, mostly by Etheridge and Travis (or both), and what a pair of exceptional composers they are, masters of spirited melodics and playful improvisation. There isn’t a dull song in this set anywhere, and — like the album’s title — as one continues to listen to it, more doors open and subtleties reveal themselves. “Now! Is the Time” is a magical little number written and performed by both bassists, Babbington and Baker. “Maybe Never” is a short but interesting piece that uses electronics liberally as it proceeds. Etheridge’s “The Stars Apart” lays down a beautiful and unforgettable melody, with Travis supporting on keys and a wonderful solo by Baker. The jazz-rock idiom just doesn’t get much better — Other Doors is everything that Soft Machine was, is, and moving forward, will always be.
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