Getting their name from the William S. Burroughs novel of the same name, The Soft Machine were originally known as pop-psych cohorts of early Pink Floyd and other (then labeled) British "underground" bands of the era. This was not their initial direction plan though. After all, they were jazz junkies first and foremost. This would be the album that they would begin to change their reputation with.
Released in June of 1970, Soft Machine’s Third was to become their transitional album. A transition from the psychedelic pop they were then known for to modal/freeform jazz and inprovisation. Also, along with the musical direction change came the personnel change too. The original trio (Hugh Hopper - bass, Robert Wyatt - drums, vocals & Mike Ratledge - organ & piano) was expanded to an octet (Elton Dean - sax, Rab Spall - violin, Lyn Dobson - flute & sax, Nick Evans - trombone, Jimmy Hastings - bass clarinet & flute). This new line up was put together with intentions for the group to start leaning toward more expanded, instrumental pieces. They definitely did so with this one...four album sides, four songs to go with them. All the tracks were hugely ambitious and impressive displays of free-form jazz/rock integration. Unfortunately, Wyatt was fired from the band about a year after Third was released.
If you are curious at all about what the music of Soft Machine has to offer, try this one first...you can go in two distinctly different style directions from it afterwards if you wish. Either forward in the discography to more free form jazz or backward in the discography to more free form psychedelia.
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