In many ways this is the closing of a chapter in that drummer John Marshall announced his retirement after the recordings of this album before passing away at the age of 82 (this never sounds like the work of an octogenarian). Bassist Roy Babbington announced his retirement after the previous album, 2018’s ‘Hidden Details’, but returned here to guest on a couple of tracks, including a duet with his replacement Fred Thelonious Baker. Theo Travis (tenor & soprano saxophones, flutes, Fender Rhodes piano, electronics) and John Etheridge (guitars) complete the line-up, which has since been augmented by the addition of the extraordinary drummer Asaf Sirkis.
Marshall is to date the longest serving member of Soft Machine in terms of years served, and it is interesting to note that they have included some old numbers on here, possibly in deference to his forthcoming retirement. What is somewhat strange is that while both Marshall and Babbington played on the original recording of “Penny Hitch” (from ‘Seven’), neither of them were involved when Soft Machine released their first single in America, “Joy of a Toy” which featured Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers. It is somewhat strange to hear this again as it has been some time since I last played it, and while I am sure there will be plenty of hardcore fans who will believe this is nothing short of sacrilege, I must confess I enjoyed it. At times they are reflective, at others more dynamic and in your face, but always striving to find the perfect combinations of note and tones to make us think and take us on a journey.
Soft Machine have continually reinvented themselves over the years, both musically and in personnel, but at no time have they ever sat back and just played it safe but instead have kept challenging themselves and still tour frequently where their improvisational skills are challenged every night. That they continue to release intriguing and interesting material so far into their career is nothing short of remarkable, and one can only hope that there are many more to come in the future. The Canterbury scene is alive and well in the hands of bands like these, and long may it continue.