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SOFT MACHINE – OTHER DOORS (2003) (Cuneiform Records)

It has been five years since the Softs’ last studio album “Hidden Details”. The line-up is John Ethridge (guitar), Theo Travis (saxes, flutes, Fender Rhodes, piano, electronics), Fred Thelonius Baker (fretless bass, with the semi-retired Roy Babbington on ‘Penny Hitch’ and ‘Now’s the Time’) and John Marshall (drums).

“Other Doors” is an absorbing album. The highlights include the menacing ‘Fell to Earth’, a partly improvised piece with fuzz bass, expansive sax and explorative flute; ‘Penny Hitch’, a revision of a Karl Jenkins composition from the 1973 album “Seven” (tenor instead of soprano sax) , featuring a well-constructed guitar solo by Ethridge; an interesting return to Kevin Ayres’ ‘Joy of a Toy’, replicating Ayers’ guitar wah-wah in a thoughtful reworking; ‘Back in Season’, a nostalgic retro step in the direction of early Soft Machine, and, for Softs’ fans who prefer the more abstract side of their music, there is the eight-minute ‘Crooked Usage’ ,with electronic and percussive extemporisations, concentrating on the atmospheric and esoteric and firmly on the free jazz side of music.

Sadly, John Marshall passed on 16th September, 2023 and jazz-rock music lost one of its greatest drummers. Having just announced his retirement, “Other Doors” turned out to be John’s studio swansong. It is now up to his successor Asaf Sirkis to step in and continue as part of the great Soft Machine legacy.

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