(Glass Onyon) Five years after the release of their last studio album, legendary UK musical institution, Soft Machine, return with a brand new album, "Other Doors." Boasting new material and two numbers drawn from their extensive historical repertoire, "Other Doors" finds the band in their usual fiery form.
Featuring John Etheridge (guitars), Theo Travis (saxes, flutes, Fender Rhodes piano, electronics), Fred Thelonious Baker (Fretless bass), John Marshall (drums), Other Doors also features two guest appearances from long-serving bassist Roy Babbington, who retired from the band in 2021.
"Other Doors" was recorded at Temple Music Studios, a facility owned by the late Jon Hiseman during July and August 2022. It's a location of which the band is particularly fond, explains John Etheridge. "Working at Jon Hiseman's studio was special, especially with Ru Lemer who is a brilliant engineer. He's fantastically quick and that's very good as we record mainly live in the studio. It's come out really well and I think it sounds great."
That ability to work quickly on takes as an ensemble has resulted in a fresh-sounding series of top-flight performances whose typically knotty and sometimes complex themes frequently give way to explosively discursive improvisations. As Theo Travis observes, "The interesting thing about recording free improvisations is you're not playing to a plan or a grid or a blueprint, so you don't know what's coming, and you don't know what's coming until it's gone. At which moment you're thinking about the next thing."
The album is brimming with that fast-moving creativity. It's been a kind of tradition with the group to include new arrangements of older Soft Machine numbers from the band's illustrious back catalogue. These have included numbers as varied as "Chloe and the Pirates," "Kings and Queens," "Out-Bloody-Rageous," etc.
Along with exciting new compositions, on "Other Doors" they've revisited the very first album, originally released in 1968, to include Kevin Ayers' "Joy Of A Toy." Fred Baker, makes his studio debut with Soft Machine. A well-known figure on the Canterbury Scene not only is he the perfect choice for the group but he's also a long-term fan of the repertoire.
The album also contains "Penny Hitch," a track originally heard on 1973's Soft Machine "Seven." This features the first of two appearances of Roy Babbington who provides the bass lines underpinning Karl Jenkins' composition while Fred plays the sinuous lead melody on his fretless bass. The pair also worked together as a duo on "Now! Is The Time," a number originally based on a theme Babbington brought into the sessions, with Fred and Roy both adding and expanding the scope of the piece.
If the album ushers in a new member in the shape of Fred Baker, it also acts as a fond farewell to drummer John Marshall, who joined Soft Machine midway through the recording of 1972's "Fifth." At the age of 81 Marshall has decided to retire making "Other Doors" his final studio album with the group, and the final album of his glorious career. Indeed, Marshall is in whip-cracking form throughout the album bringing his trademark musicality and decisive presence. With "Other Doors," he brings his distinguished career to a rousing conclusion.
Intense, celebratory, and consistently impressive. "Other Doors" is the sound of a group determined to press forwards with an integrity and sense of purpose that's quintessentially and definitively Soft Machine.