Soft Works is a reunion of various members of the early, classic line-ups of the legendary jazz-rock band, Soft Machine. In the late sixties, the band created one of the earliest offshoots of progressive rock – jazz fusion. Beginning with an avant-garde approach to popular music, various incarnations of the band moved into a definitive jazz direction, incorporating a horn section quite unlike what the more poppy bands like Chicago were doing. The music was long, complex and very progressive and there was no acquiescing to the movement of popular music.
Each musician from Soft Machine went on to create their own legacy in the annals of music over time, some still recording vehemently as session musicians or on solo projects.
After a re-union concert with three former members, the players decided to make another album, re-naming themselves Soft Works and inviting another former player, guitarist Alan Holdsworth to record “Abracadabra” in just a few days. They picked new material to work with, along with some older lesser known songs.
The players also include Elton Dean on alto sax, saxello, Fender Rhodes piano, Hugh Hopper on electric bass, and John Marshall on drums. “Seven Formerly” starts things off in a nice atmospheric fashion, opting for a breezier approach to the jazz-rock tradition. The playing is off course superb and the pace meandering and relaxed. This style is further subdued on “First Trane”, which builds intensity in its eleven minutes of length.
“Elsewhere” is carried by Dean’s ripping sax in the first half, then shifts the spotlight to Holdsworth’s tasty guitar licks. “K Licks” follows and meanders like a long improvisation. “Willie’s Knee” has a funky sound, built around piano and Holdsworth’s lead guitar. The title track is soft and tender, with the bittersweet wailing of sax almost speaking out above the music. As with most of the music, it slowly builds in intensity. The album ends with “Madame Vintage”, where the sax seems to be treated to sound a bit like a synth. The song, like many on the CD, is highly improvisational and somewhat unstructured.
It leads me to my main criticism of this album. Despite the magnificent playing, Soft Works does not do what it did in the late sixties as Soft Machine – and that is, breathe new life into music. “Abracadabra” is technically brilliant, but it sounds like something we have heard many times before. Where the CD is significantly lacking, is the time taken in writing and constructing something new in the songs themselves. And the fact that it was recorded very quickly begins to show, particularly in the second half of the album, where sounds and moods from the first half seem to be re-invented. However, if you are a great fan of jazz-rock and fusion, this is a treat that you won’t want to miss.