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Soft Works: Abracadabra

Soft Works features ex-members of the legendary jazz-rock group Soft Machine, including bassist Hugh Hopper, saxophonist Elton Dean and drummer John Marshall along with frequent guest Machine guitarist Allan Holdsworth. Dean dominates the group’s first offering, Abracadabra (Tone Center), but that is not a problem.

Dean is many different saxophone players rolled into one: John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders-did I hear some Charlie Rouse in there? The long compositions give him the chance to stretch out and find his sweet spots. The Hopper-composed “First Trane” is a perfect example: Dean hangs back behind the groove like he is inside a club waiting for the crowd to gather. He plays slowly, and as Trane might have said, he wants to get it all in. In the process, Dean creates musical hypnotism. The melody isn’t as important as the moments where he dives recklessly into the unknown. Another Hopper tune, “Elsewhere,” is more compelling narrative. The band lets him have the space, and Dean chases the spirit of Sanders through familiar places, where the squeaky sacred sounds seem daunting and daring. I personally got lost in Dean’s funk-influenced “Willie’s Knee,” where the entire band is in high gear. Hip-hop DJs will sample this one. And Dean provides the coda, a rousing, surprisingly funky sax solo that drives home the point again that the unknown is what a jazz musician savors each night out.

Originally Published