Soft Machine – Fourth (1971)

Artist Credit
Roy Babbington Bass, Double Bass
Paschal Byrne Remastering
Alison Calvert Project Coordinator
Marc Charig Cornet, Horn
George Chkiantz Engineer
Elton Dean Composer, Sax (Alto), Saxello, Saxophone
Lyn Dobson Horn
Nick Evans Trombone
Jimmy Hastings Clarinet (Bass), Flute, Flute (Alto), Wind
John Hays Art Direction
Hugh Hopper Bass, Composer, Guitar (Bass)
Campbell MacCallum Cover Photo
Campbell MacCollum Photography
Sean Murphy Executive Producer
Barry Plummer Photography
Mike Ratledge Composer, Keyboards, Organ, Piano
Alan Skidmore Sax (Tenor), Saxophone
Phil Smee Package Design
Soft Machine Primary Artist, Producer
Charlie Stanford Project Coordinator
Robert Wyatt Drums

Soft Machine’s collective skill is hyper-complex and refined, as they are extremely literate in all fields of musical study. Fourth is the band’s free purging of all of that knowledge, woven into noisy, smoky structures of sound. Their arcane rhythms have a stop-and-go mentality of their own that sounds incredibly fresh even though it is sonically steeped in soft and warm tones. Obviously there is a lot of skillful playing going on, as the mix of free jazz, straight-ahead jazz, and Gong-like psychedelia coalesces into a skronky plateau. Robert Wyatt’s drumming is impeccable — so perfect that it at times becomes an unnoticeable map upon which the bandmembers take their instinctive direction. Mike Ratledge’s keys are warm throughout, maintaining an earthy quality that keeps its eye on the space between the ground and the heavens that Soft Machine attempt to inhabit. Elton Dean’s saxophone work screams out the most inventive cadence, and since it’s hardly rhythmic, it takes front and center, spitting out a crazy language. Certainly the band is the preface to a good portion of Chicago’s post-rock output, as the Softs undoubtedly give a nod to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew experiments, which were going on in the U.S. at the same time.

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