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Published: 2006/04/16
by Pat Buzby

Floating World Love- Soft Machine

Moonjune 007
Some time ago, the amount of archival Soft Machine releases exceeded the amount of records they put out when they were active. If theres any rationale for that, its that music as heavily improvised as theirs might not be caught at its best in the studio, and that the Soft lineups of different years were essentially different bands.
By 1975, Soft Machine had left behind its Dadaist past and settled into a fusion bag. With the one remaining original member, organist/composer Mike Ratledge, beginning to withdraw from the band, they had scored a coup by grabbing guitarist Allan Holdsworth, who was one of the few players who came on the fusion scene after the initial Bitches Brew-era burst to do something truly new. He stayed for only one studio release, Bundles, after which the Softs lost both him and Ratledge and began a gradual fade, but Floating World Live demonstrates that he put a lot into the project while he was there.
Soft Machines primary composer at this stage was Karl Jenkins, and his eccentric brand of odd-meter ostinati dominates the disc. Playing-wise, however, Holdsworth is at center stage for a good half of this CDs length. Whether in the involved chord sequence of Land Of The Bag Snake or the simpler settings of Bundles or Hazard Profile (Part One) (regrettably cut after five minutes on this recording), Holdsworth shows again how he brought Coltranes sheets-of-sound conception to the guitar, in a manner different enough from the Bundles studio recording to be worth the investment. Jenkins, Ratledge and bassist Roy Babbington are smart enough to stay out of the way much of the time, but drummer John Marshall keeps up, adding a firm, alert rhythmic support.
This being fusion, Floating World Live also gives us four minutes of Ratledges synth, six of Babbingtons bass and ten of Marshalls drums. Each of these solo interludes has its appeal (especially Marshalls found-object explorations), but even the diehards will likely concede that these pieces could have been cut by a third and still put across their ideas. Holdsworth, too, begins repeating himself by the time he gets to his concluding Endgame statement, although, given his notorious harsh judgments of his work, its fortunate that he didnt let this or some other possible flaw torpedo the release altogether.
When it all clicks, though, Floating World Live gives an appealing second view of a too-short era. It stacks up well against the hard-to-find Bundles the performances are more energetic and the sound about as good. This is when archival releases come in handy.

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