England - Full Moon 82 - 05/16/03
The album was released in Japan in March on Universal Records. Moonjune has duly set the European
and US release to the moon in June. Soft Works consists of Elton Dean, Allan Holdsworth, Hugh Hopper
and John Marshall. They were all members of Soft Machine at some point, though never at the same
time. As with previous other soft projects involving messieurs Dean and Hopper, like Soft Heap and
Soft Head, they have the decency not to re-awake the original semi-legendary band name. Thank you!
Soft Machine started as an eccentric English psychedelic combo in 1966 and finally disbanded as a
steady jazz-rock institution about 18 years later. Soft Works picks up the threads where Soft Machine
ended. Abracadabra is more jazz than rock, mainly due to Elton Dean's sax playing that dominates
throughout and the neat drumming by John Marshall. Let's label the album modern English jazz, if
ever it existed, although sometimes Alan Holdsworth's electric and especially synthaxe guitars
seem beyond any musical genre to these ears. Here and there they sound closer to keyboards than
guitars and a couple of times even remind of Mike Ratledge's fuzz-organ of early Soft Machine
Most compositions allow for substantial improvisations, mainly Elton's. Personally I prefer
the relatively short (about 5 minutes) and structured tracks like "Baker's Treat" (clever title!)
- the "ballad" of the album so to speak - and the close to funky "Willie's Knee". Both demonstrate
what an extraordinary guitarist Allan Holdworth is. Overall Abracadabra oozes of experienced
musicality and instinctive communication. The quartet proves it's yet another vital branch of the
Canterbury family tree. (For those not familiar with the wonderful world of Canterbury music, check
out our short version here.) The version
of Phil Miller's Canterbury classic 'Calyx' (originally from Hatfield & the North's first album
and sung by Robert Wyatt), here cunningly re-named "K-Licks", is another highlight, sounding as
fresh as ever.
Strange to know that Elton John chose his artistic name after playing with Elton Dean and Long
John Baldry some time in the 60s and that one of Hugh Hopper's very first songs, the wonderful
"Memories", once was recorded by Whitney Houston. Soft Works belongs on a
different planet compared to those mainstream artists.
Contact Moonjune Records.
Copyright © 2003 JP