FACELIFTS AND NOSEJOBS
MACHINE : Backwards
(Cuneiform. Rune 170)
the band, such as it was by then, officially disbanded in the late 1970s
there has been a steady output of archive material featuring some of
the best work they ever did. This latest slab of their idiosyncratic
jazz rock is taken from three sources; a concert by the ‘classic’ quartet
in My 1970, two tracks by the ‘big band’ in November 1969 and Robert
Wyatt’s original demo of ‘Moon In June’ with a section by the trio spliced
onto the end. It captures a band in the throes of changes, full of fire
are no ‘new’ tracks but some their concert ‘standards’ are given fresh
workouts. There are two versions of Hopper’s, aptly named, ‘Facelift’,
one by each of the two line-ups. The first gives everyone space to explore
and it’s good to hear Wyatt’s drums pitched against Elton Dean’s comparatively
restrained but exploratory alto. Limpid electric piano washes in behind
them and, for a moment, you have to remind yourself that this was 1970.
The sound quality is excellent. A superb restoration job has been done
with these old tapes.
‘big band’ version starts off with the brass laying down the labyrinthine
theme in a pleasingly ragged fashion. Ratledge’s legendary fuzz organ
sounds a little weedy at times. The horns inject more life into the proceedings through
their unison riffing. The emergence of the quartet line-up is evident
on this track. Dean gets a solo spot but it would’ve been interesting
to hear Nick Evans or Mark Charig too. I suppose that this was one of
the problematic aspects of the band at this time; whether to play the
charts and maintain a certain discipline or blow. The other ‘big band’
selection is the truncated ‘Hibou Anemone And Bear’ which gives Lyn
Dobson a chance to air his tenor alongside Dean. On this piece the sound
quality is a bit uneven in places but it adds to the raw live feel.
I’m not complaining, though others might.
quartet turn in a blistering performance of ‘Esther’s Nose Job’ on which
Ratledge can be heard whipping out one of his trademark spiky solos.
Hopper’s bass is characteristically fuzzy. Wyatt’s contributes a brief
interlude of echoing scat before Dean visits and extemporises on what
would later become ‘Pigling Bland’ on Soft Machine 5. Wyatt has the
last word, explaining his treated vocals. He states that he’s said all
he had to say in lyric form and is now exploring all the other things
you can do with the mouth. Those elements of humour and irony would
soon be lost from the Softs for good.
in other ways his legacy is very much alive on this cd including part
of the instrumental section of ‘Moon In June’ where he powers along
underpinning Ratledge’s solo. He also sings some of ‘Pig’ from ‘Volume
Two’ And, of course, there is the resurrected demo of the whole piece
from 1968/9. The liner notes suggest that only a piece of technological
necromancy could have made its existence possible. Well, it has survived
the years pretty well, despite some missing grooves! Wyatt plays everything
on the first section then invites Hopper and Ratledge to join him on
the second. The section about him living in New York State and missing the English rain still
sounds as poignant as it did back on ‘Third’. Maybe even more so. This
version, for me, stands up there with the one they did for the Peel
Sessions and adds another piece to the history of a truly exciting live
band. May there be more to come.