1. Neo Caliban Grides
  2. All White
  3. Slightly All The Time 
  4. M.C.
  6. Out-Bloody-Rageous 
  7. As If
  8. Dark Swing
  9. Intro Pigling
10. Pigling Bland 

Recorded: tracks 1-7 October 17th, 1971 at the  Donaueschinger MusikTage, Donaueschingen, Germany
tracks 8-10 November 7th, 1971, at Berliner Jazztage, Berlin, Germany**
Released: 2008

Hugh Hopper: bass
Elton Dean: alto sax, saxello, Fender Rhodes
Phil Howard: drums
Mike Ratledge: Lowrey organ, Fender Rhodes

Dedicated to the memory of Elton Dean (1946-2006)

"An unsung jazz drums hero, Phil Howard is one of the world's greatest jazz drummers that 99.99% of people have never heard of."

“...Howard’s more flamboyant Tony Williams-style drumming was, if not an improvement over Wyatt, certainly a change that pushed Soft Machine further away from rock and closer to jazz...”  - All About Jazz

This CD documents an often overlooked phase in the long and complex history of Soft Machine - Australian drummer Phil Howard's five-month interim behind the drum stool between Robert Wyatt's departure and his eventual long-term replacement John Marshall. It did last long enough to record half of the studio album "Fifth" (1972) and a couple of BBC radio sessions, but until now no official document of that line-up in its preferred environment - the stage. Howard was brought into Soft Machine by saxophonist Elton Dean, both being members of Elton's side project Just Us, and under their combined influence the band became freer and wilder than ever before (or after) in its existence, pushing longtime leaders Mike Ratledge and Hugh Hopper into unchartered areas of electric madness. Before long they'd decided this wasn't the way to go, but meanwhile the line-up had antagonised audiences throughout extensive tours of the UK and Europe. This CD documents the German leg of the tour and, as veteran music journalist Steve Lake notes in his detailed liner notes, is a revelation - a glimpse of a highly exciting alternative route Soft Machine decided not to explore further. "Howard's "polyrhythmic" approach takes the music away from the complexity of odd meters, into a different complexity - that of thoroughly organic playing. His drumming displays a peculiar, somewhat static feel - as he doesn't play breaks or stress the beats in the typical rock way, and principally uses cymbals and miniature snare rolls, the music seems to be floating in the air. Soft Machine no longer play any actual 'pieces', but rather separate conglomerates from different fragments of pieces, which only emerge sporadically here and there. On the whole, its music seems closer to the new jazz groups, like Weather Report, than any rock band - the only connection that remains with rock now lies solely with amplification and the use of electric instruments. Admittedly the music is sometimes difficult on the ear, but for those familiar with Soft Machine's development and related groups, it was a celebration". - Norbert Odorozinsky (review of the Soft Machine's October 13th 1971 concert in Düsseldorf, in German magazine "Sounds" Nov/Dec 1971)

* text from MoonJune website

** added comment by another great Italian: Antonio Maschio:
I have very recently come across the Donaueschingen recording, and I can tell you, confronting the sources of Drop (Moonjune 2008) with the sources of the two bootlegs in Donaueschingen (Oct. 17, 1971) and Berlin (Nov. 7, 1971) that the sources for Drop come as follows:
tracks 1-7 are from Berlin, tracks 8-10 are from Donaueschingen (including the drum solo "Dark Swing")
The set for both concerts is quite the same, though "All White" played in Donaueschingen is rather different from the piece played in Berlin.
In any case I must observe that, since the sources of Drop are superb if confronted with the two bootlegs recordings I have, it's possible that someone, somewhere, has the both of the two concerts in full and in good quality. When will official versions be released?
Halfway 1971 Robert Wyatt was more or less fired. There were a lot of reasons, musical, personal, alcohol, different views and all other ones. It troubled Robert for years, but also Hugh and Mike. Looking back nobody was happy or satisfied and mostly just ashamed about what happened. With some gigs to do, the band needed a new drummer urgently. Elton, who had played with Phil Howard already, suggested him, but Hugh and Mike opted for Joe Gallivan as well. Since Phil had already played with Soft Machine before he seemed to be the easiest choice. But there were other reasons as well, the freer approach they were looking for in their music, the jazz-thing and maybe even because Phil was Robert’s favourite drummer. It wasn’t a lucky choice, since Phil just stayed for about five month. By adding Phil to the line-up, Soft Machine wasn’t a real band anymore, but two camps with different perspectives: Elton and Phil, improvisers and free jazz players on one side, Hugh and Mike, writers of complex musical structures on the other. In the beginning this seemed to be what they wished. Phil was an intense and emotional drummer, sometimes he even seemed to be more than one drummer. On the road the exact time-keeping, mostly a job drummers have to handle with, was loosened and seemed to fit more to Elton’s soloing than the solo’s from Mike. Adding Phil meant changing patterns and a changing view. Hugh: “Phil left Mike and me gobsmacked, feeling musically superfluous to the tempest of sound and rhythm.” In the middle of a tour there was a recording session scheduled; tracks for the next album, which would be named ‘Fifth’. They recorded three tracks: All White, Drop and M.C. But during the sessions tensions were rising. Mike and Hugh weren’t happy with Phil’s style of drumming on their more thematic based compositions. They decided they needed another drummer, a drummer who could play free, but structured as well and asked Elton to tell him the bad news. He did, but he didn’t like it. Phil didn’t understand why he was fired. It left Elton was lots of thoughts, enough to quit the group later on as well. Drop, the cd, shows how the band sounded with Phil in its ranks. It is an important chapter in Soft Machine’s history and a good one to listen to. The disc starts with Neo Caliban Grides, a freer composition from Elton, and immediate the new sound is set. The intro is played shortly and after that the band is lost in music. All White has more rhythmic approach with Fender Rhodes and a million cymbals. The longest track on this disc is Slightly all the Time. Mike plays Fender and Lowrey on this one. I thought hearing this the first time: ´Sometimes it sounds like King Kong, the Frank Zappa composition´. It has familiar themes, but simultaneously it sounds very different. Drop is a new composition (it would appear on Fifth), cymbal rides again, minimal piano music and a long organ solo, but not as refined as on the album yet. M.C. is the second new composition, a sturdy bass and other sounds wrapped in echo´s and not a single rhythm to tap your foot on. Out-Bloody-Rageous only has reminiscences of its original; sometimes the music is fluid, sometimes thick as syrup. As If, another Fifth track, starts like a late night jazz number, easy and relaxed but halfway changes into a nightmare which ends abrupt. Darks Swing is sort-of a drum-solo which leads into the intro of Pigling Bland, the track which resembles its predecessors most. Drop is a wonderful disc, full of freedom and discoveries, but it also makes clear that this musical approach isn’t the way the Soft Machine should develop. Mike and Hugh became strangers in their own band, but stepped on the brake just in time. Pity for Phil who after his Soft Machine adventure disappeared from the musical scene at all. For the band it was now time for a new chapter with yet a new drummer.

Paul Lemmens © 2014