Concert Review Archive


Soft Machine Legacy

Tuesday, 7th August 2012
PizzaExpress Jazz Café, London, the UK

Article and photo By Roger Trenwith

Any venue that boasts a corporate sponsor as part of its name always fills me with a little dread, as big business and art do not make natural bedfellows, but as I later discovered that as this now global chain has supported jazz at its intimate Dean Street venue since 1969 my worries were completely unfounded.

This gig was part of a week long John Etheridge residency at the Jazz Café, the respected guitarist showcasing his wide range of fretboard abilities, playing as part of an acoustic combo, as leader of the Zappatistas, and as part of duos with singer/pianist Liane Carroll and pianist John Holder, as well as this one, with Soft Machine Legacy.

We were led to our table to the left-hand side and next to the small stage which was crammed with wires and sundry boxes of electronic gadgetry. We were what you might call "up close and personal", the only drawbacks being our proximity to John Etheridge's guitar monitor which meant a slightly unbalanced sound, and a view of John's back was sometimes the central visual focus.

These small niggles were more than compensated for by some blistering playing by the highly experienced ensemble. Drummer John Marshall and bassist Roy Babbington, now both the other side of 70 kept things flowing with a dexterity belying their age; John's drum solo after the cacophonous The Relegation Of Pluto, a tune from Theo Travis's Double Talk album, was a jazz percussionists dream, subtlety and power flowing seemingly effortlessly from his wrists.

Opening the set with two tracks from their 2007 album Steam, a powerful rendering of The Steamer followed by an uptight'n'funky In The Back Room set the scene for a great evening's entertainment. It wasn't too long before one of my favourite later-period Soft Machine songs The Nodder was given a suitably atmospheric reading, and the first half of the set was later brought to a close with a storming version of Grapehound, Theo Travis putting his own stamp on Elton Dean's sax parts. Theo played a blinder throughout, but the undoubted star of the show is John Etheridge and his fluid soloing, Grapehound being a perfect example, especially where the solo is replaced by a cyclical riff in some strange time signature that was both powerful and hypnotic. You could not fail to be impressed!

Soft Machine Legacy

John is an engaging front-man, one snippet of his early life on the road with Stephane Grappelli in the Deep South of the USA being particularly amusing. I won't repeat it here in case you're going to see Mr Etheridge any time soon, tease that I am.

The second part of the evening also starred Theo's live debut on a piano on Black and Crimson, playing a distinctly Steven Wilson-like chord sequence, if my ears did not deceive me. The set ended on a rocking version of John E's Pump Room, before the obligatory encore, this time a spacious and funky rendering of Gesolreut, a song now almost 40 years old, not that you'd know it.

Theo kindly scribbled the setlist on the back of a bar tab for me, and, along with the rest of the band stayed behind to chat. Theo also revealed that the next SML album is in the can for a release later in the year. So much for my companion and I fearing that this may be last we will see of the band, given their infrequent live appearances and their age - Theo apart of course, who was jokingly introduced by John E from the stage earlier as a "young man"! Keep on keepin' on, lads!

The Steamer
In The Back Room
Has Riff
The Nodder
Song Of Aeolus

Chloe & The Pirates
Black & Crimson
The Relegation Of Pluto
Drum solo
Two Down
Pump Room


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