England - Full Moon 140 - 02/21/08
Delta Saxophone Quartet
Dedicated To You... But You Weren't Listening
The horn blowers of DSQ have kept going for a couple of decades. They're into presenting the music of more or less serious composers like Gavin Bryars, Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Mike Westbrook, in their own special way. On this particular album they've dug in the catalogue of Soft Machine. I had mixed feelings towards the album even before I heard it, and more so after I gave it a first spin. I enjoy parts of the life and times of Soft Machine immensely; from the whimsical pop-psychedelic band dominated by Daevid Allen and Kevin Ayers of 1967 (Jet Propelled Photographs by Daevid Allen's University Of Errors a few years back covers this era) to the exploratory tense jazz-rock-progressive combo around 1970. My interest in the band diminishes severely after Robert Wyatt left (or was sacked) in 1971, and I've hardly listened to the jazz albums of the band after Hugh Hopper went in 1973 with one exception. On the one hand, it's interesting, strange and quite a pleasant surprise that the DSQ esteems the Softies in the same way as the composers mentioned above. On the other hand, how can the Quartet supply the music of Soft Machine of the unique middle era anything worthwhile? After all, Soft's Third album, where
the better part of tracks of Dedicated To You... originate, ranks among the seven musical wonders of the earth, in my humble opinion.
After that first spin, I thought Dedicated... sounded like jazz, pure jazz, closer to latterday stages of Soft Machine than any of the previous. After several spins, I think at least half the disc sounds closer to melodic composed (contemporary?) chamber music for four saxophones, miles away from anything I've ever heard by the Softies. And quite neat and fascinating it is. In fact, the album seems a lot more inspired by some of the Soft's songs and instrumentals than cover versions of them. The title track, originally a short melancholy song released on Soft's Volume Two, have inspired five or six tracks here. Most of them have very little, or nothing - to these ears at least, in common with the originals. Here is also a track called "Outrageous Moon" that combines "Out-Bloody-Rageous" and "Moon In June" off Third. "Moon In June" is probably my all-time favourite song and I cannot recognise any part of it in DSQ's version. Apart from a neat rendition of "Dedicated To You", only "Outrageous Moon" (after all) and "Facelift" give me any real reverberations of Soft Machine. The latter two mainly thanks to the guest musicians. Hugh Hopper himself contributes discreet bass and loops on his own great composition "Facelift" and cunning old Morgan Fisher almost brings Soft Machine to life on "Outrageous Moon". His distorted hurdy gurdy reminds of the characteristic fuzz organ and ditto bass on them great old Soft Machine recordings and his vocals mixed a little into the background made me think the
voice of Robert Wyatt moved upon the face of the waters ...
All in all Dedicated To You... has grown into a fascinating original beast on its own. Armed with four saxophones, it moves elements off the long-haired dubious Soft Machine catalogue closer to the world of serious composers like the aforemetioned Bryars, Glass and Reich. And some free improvised jazz thrown in for good measure. As a bonus, it might inspire someone to seek out the highly recommended Softs back catalogue. (Volume Two and Third, of course, in particular, if you ask me...)
Delta Saxophone Quartet is rumoured to be touring several continents with Hugh Hopper this year and will also team up with the entire Soft Machine Legacy for some hopefully eclectic moments and movements. Check out the Delta home page for further information.
PS! I cannot resist mentioning that this is the second time an album is called Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening, taken from the Hugh Hopper song. The album by The Keith Tippet Group from 1971 featured several former, present and future (at the time) members of Soft Machine but the only Soft Machine composition was a 33 seconds instrumental rendition of the same song played by a single cornet and sax. And of course Robert Wyatt wrote "Dedicated To Hugh, But You Weren't Listening" after he'd left Soft Machine and gathered his own band Matching Mole in 1972...
Copyright © 2008 JP