Burden of Proof
In a way Soft Machine has two legacies. The original Canterbury trio, with angelic vocalist/drummer Robert Wyatt, came up in the same scene as Pink Floyd, tweaking the era’s psychedelia with jazz attitudes. Then in the 1970s, the original members gradually departed and the name became something of a clearinghouse for British progressive jazz-cum-fusion. Three-quarters of Soft Machine Legacy played in the latter period of the band, while the fourth spent time in Gong, a distant cousin. If the band name seems dubious, the music says otherwise. These veterans aren’t living off the past so much as taking it a step further, and age hasn’t mellowed or mired their focus.
Guitarist John Etheridge’s compositions draw on modal riffs, boogie rock and slow blues, the latter (“Pie Chart”) almost getting too murky thanks to Roy Babbington’s barely tuned bass strings. But Etheridge consistently cuts deep here and throughout the album, with melodic, sharp licks that never depend on flash. Saxophonist Theo Travis writes complex melody lines that digress into free territory, a style in which the band excels, especially Etheridge, who churns out a series of delightful scrapes and skronks.
The group composition “Green Cubes” begins freely and slowly morphs into a one-chord noise groove before fading out. Drummer John Marshall, who had the longest tenure in the original group, might be the most aggressive player on this set, as evidenced in a few interludes including “The Brief,” where he duets with Travis before the whole band crashes into the ZZ Top groove of “Pump Room.” The band revisits one old Soft Machine song, the ballad “Kings and Queens,” which gets a sensitive treatment from Travis’ flute. The real interest on Burden of Proof, though, comes with the current material.