Delta Saxophone Quartet Plays The Music of Soft Machine
MoonJune records announced the new release of Delta Saxophone Quartet Feat. Hugh Hopper - "Dedicated to You but You Weren't Listening - The Music of Soft Machine". Formed in 1984, the Delta Saxophone Quartet has never sought, or needed to find, a level or a comfort zone. Whether performing works by Steve Martland, Mike Westbrook, Steve Reich, Philip Glass or Terry Riley, their musical choices have always come with their own demands and challenges.
Sometimes personnel changes merely solidify an existing repertoire and dampen the desire to experiment. But here two new members - tenorist Tim Holmes, once of sax quartet Itchy Fingers, and Australian soprano player Graeme Blevins - have encouraged the quartet to move in new directions. And what a challenge this new project is! How do you take music from a band as legendary, and even cult-like, as the Soft Machine but make it anew? And how do you do that without destroying the object of fascination itself and without alienating armies of fans, both your own and those of the Softs? Obviously taste and technical ability are essential but as themselves are not enough. It takes a love of the source and a desire to create something fresh and inviting that stands both as a tribute but also on its own terms. That's exactly what DSQ have done. They have invited eight or nine modern composers to do this with them, each one of whom chooses to straddle boundaries and do battle with rigid categorisation in their work.
In a sense, this echoes the way the original Soft Machine developed but gradually grew apart. Here different composers provide their vision of what this music could sound like.
With Soft Machine, their individual aesthetics would in the end tear them away from their shared goal but would first create some amazing music. It would have been interesting to find ways of recreating those fractious internal dynamics on this record. In fact, Morgan Fisher with Outrageous Moon's medley of Robert Wyatt's Moon In June and Mike Ratledge's Out-Bloody-Rageous comes pretty close. It might also have been exciting to uncover the whole raft of modernisms that inspired these guys in the first place. But this is not some atonal, serialist, twelve-tone Meisterwerk, so Softs' fans fear not. It is more a series of miniatures, which also discover some things much older within these pieces. Things that I, a fan since 1969, had never noticed before. There was, since Ratledge joined at least, a Baroque elegance to Soft Machine's music. Now, I know that those rockier fusioneers amongst the Softs' legion of fans may find such talk a tad pretentious, though of course they still regale each other with stories of band members' erudition. It remains true, however, that there is something of Johann Sebastian Bach in the mix, something that also inspired those minimalists like Riley and Reich the group so admired. Morgan Fisher certainly finds that aspect in Out-Bloody-Rageous, along with a whole lot else. But there are other things in here as well that DSQ and their chosen collaborators draw out. One expects to hear hints of English, or perhaps Welsh, pastoralism in the music of Karl Jenkins, who joined the Softs in 1972. And that quality emerges beautifully in ex-DSQ member Gareth Brady's take on Jenkins' Aubade along with some nice Baroque counterpoint. And Adrian Revell's lovely arrangement of the Welshman's Floating World has something of that airy lightness one associates with Vaughan Williams and Rawsthorne. But to be honest, I had never noticed that English pastoral aspect to Hugh Hopper's writing before. Maybe his penchant for loops and electronics blurred my eyes and confused my ears but in the hands of Issie Barratt on Somehow With The Passage Of Time, her reworking of Hopper's Kings & Queens, it is quite clear. As for Dedicated To You, Joe Durrell's straightforward recreation is elegantly simple, while Mike Kearsey's elegiac Noisette dances and skips like folk at a country fair. Hopper, incidentally, adds bass and electronics to a fine version of Facelift towards the beginning of the record - something that somehow provides a further thread back through time for this project. But there is so much else to enjoy here and perhaps marvel at. One even hears DSQ improvising three short numbers from melodic fragments from the Soft Machine repertoire - Dedicated, To and You. Each time I listen, I change my mind about which track works best but then there are at least five of my favourite things writ large on this record - Jazz, Bach, Minimalism, English Pastoral music and, not least, the Soft Machine. It seems simultaneously strange and apt that Moonjune Records, the label that features the Soft Machine Legacy, are releasing Dedicated To You. SML are a different beast altogether. Yet, I can visualise both groups so easily on the same bill and then joining each other for one huge encore at the end. It's not just a vision of that Jazz-Rock Heaven, to which both groups must eventually surely go. It's a now vision of a place where past, present and future meet, just like in the music of Soft Machine and just like the music here. Make it happen, guys.
The Delta Saxophone Quartet was formed in 1984 and is ithe Ensemble in residence 2003-2008 at Kingston University, London, UK. The group aims to present British and international new music in a dynamic and thought provoking way. A sample of its repertoire may include works by Gavin Bryars, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Louis Andriessen or jazz composer Mike Westbrook to re-workings from the legendary 70's Jazz/Rock group The Soft Machine.
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