Despite having produced the beautifully elegiac and criminally overlooked Seven at the end of 1973, Soft Machine felt new blood was required to add energy and renewed purpose to the quartet of ex-Nucleus cohorts Karl Jenkins, Roy Babbington, John Marshall and the last remaining original founding member, Mike Ratledge.
Allan Holdsworth’s recruitment did just that, providing them with a seemingly unstoppable torrent of cartwheeling notes, burning like a catherine wheel with a frenetic vitality and arresting originality. By the time they hit the 1974 Montreux Jazz Festival they’d been together as a working unit for just six months and the recording of their sole studio album, Bundles, was still a couple of weeks away. As good as that release may be, on this incendiary live set, tunes like Hazard Profile and The Man Who Waved At Trains easily outpace their studio counterparts. Cuneiform have gone to heroic lengths to correct and restore the audio and visual source material which appears on CD and DVD for the first time. In truth, after their initial psychedelic 60s burst, Soft Machine were never the most exciting outfit to look at. Yet their no-fuss, slightly bored demeanour masks the lively spirit animating their set. Holdsworth’s soloing occupies most of the spotlight, but Marshall and Babbington command attention and admiration. Their constant interaction digs deep into layered, shifting compositions, selflessly clearing a nuanced space in which their colleagues go to work. Historically the understated British variety of jazz-rock was (to some degree still is) perceived as being overshadowed and outgunned by its more assertive American cousin. Switzerland 1974 demonstrably refutes this. You think the Jenkins-era Softs lack lapel-grabbing passion or soul? Watch and listen to this essential release, and you’ll find both commodities are in plentiful supply.