Matching Mole - "Smoke Signals"
(Cuneiform Records 2001, RUNE 154, Recorded live in France 1972)
From Aural Innovations #18 (January 2002)
Matching Mole, translated from the French ("Machine Mole"), means Soft Machine! When Softs co-founder Robert Wyatt became dissatisfied with the direction they were taking in 1971, he formed this band as a continuation of the wilder side of the Softs sound (at this point Soft Machine began to drift towards the direction and music being made by Miles Davis, and forsook their innovations for safer more commercial approaches to JazzRock). Recruiting former Quiet Sun BassGuitarist Bill MacCormick, Electric Pianist Dave McRae, Ex-Caravan Keyboardist Dave Sinclair, and ex-Delivery Guitarist Phil Miller, Wyatt moved in the original direction of loose, almost Free Improvisations that had been the Softs hallmark before he left.
MM recorded two LPs, each a mix of semi-improvised pieces and some quite beautiful pop songs (like "Oh Caroline"), but their forte' was their scorching performances, with Wyatt's unique Drum style very much in the front line, and not inconsiderable contributions by Bassist MacCormick! After a few of the band's early performances, Dave Sinclair left the group (ironically, he became involved in the formation of Hatfield & the North before returning to Caravan in 1973). This CD is a compilation of performances from the spring 1972 European tour, and is an excellent indication of how the band operated before an audience (a complete concert can be found on bootleg CD of a Paris date 5/8/72, although I've only seen it on lists, and have it on Cassette).
"March Ides" begins the show with considerable energy, and a slight nod to music made a few years earlier by John McLaughlin. Wyatt delivers a great drum bridge, and they're into McRae's "Smoke Rings" (actually, the first of two versions of Smoke Signals), which displays a debt to Josef Zawinul/Weather Report. McRae's Piano work is quite interesting in that although playing the same instrument, he does not display the overt influence of Mike Ratledge on the instrument (compare Ratledge' 68-72 playing with the approaches of Dave Stewart, Allan Gowan, Dave Sinclair, Peter Robinson, Dave Jarrett, etc. It is interesting that few in this musical community chose to investigate the work of Ratledge contemporary Richard Wright!)
However, the Ratledge influence is present in Phil Miller's Guitar work! Many people seem to get annoyed at his quirky, almost tentative "Stop & Start" rhythmic approach when playing solos. In the 1970s, he (along with Robert Fripp, Fred Frith, and Sonny Sharrock) was one of the few JazzRock Guitarists not under the thrall of Mahavishnu Orchestra! (McLaughlin's work has always been beyond reproach, and will be recorded by history as second only to Jimi Hendrix in the development of Guitar as a solo voice!) He employs clear tones, and trebly clean Fuzz. When playing the heads of the tunes, one hears echoes of late '50s/early '60s guitarists like Pat Martino or Gabor Szabo (in particular his work with Chico Hamilton's groups).
"Nan's True Hole" intensifies the Jam, Wyatt proving himself to have been an excellent drummer, his strengths being stamina and the ability to provide a solid rhythmic barrage! "Brandy as in Benj" has a quirky little melodic head, and segues into McRae's piano solo, then yet another version of "March Ides". "Instant Pussy" turns up the heat somewhat, then "Smoke Signal", a reprise of the previous piece. "Lything and Gracing" should be familiar with "Canterbury Music" fans, as I've heard the riff played by a number of bands in this genre. MM plays it with grace and abandon, Wyatt displaying his unique charm and complete mastery of the drums on this one. Miller's Guitar work once again marks him as an original on the instrument, and closes out a release that should've been issued in 1973!
Unfortunately, this version of Matching Mole disbanded during late spring 1972, with Miller moving on to Hatfield & the North, and MacCormick returning to college to study history and political science! One can hear the results of his studies as the lyrics to 801's LP "Listen Now!" released in 1977 and very underrated, as are all three 801 LPs). In 1975 he reunited with (Roxy Music) Guitarist Phil Manzanera, Keyboardsman Dave Jarrett and Drummer Charles Hayward to record the award-winning Quiet Sun LP "Main Stream" in 1975.
McRae was to have been in a reformed Matching Mole (along with Trumpeter Mongezi Feza and Saxophonist Gary Windo) but Wyatt, whilst drunk, fell from a Window during the summer of 1972, becoming paraplegic. He was able to appear on the first HatFields LP and returned to live performance in February 1974, when he reappeared with a live show to promote the VERY UNDERRATED "Rock Bottom" Lp, issued by Virgin Records!
Bravo to Steve Feigenbaum and the Cuneiform folks for getting out important historic releases, even if they're 28 years too late! Now what's needed is a live release by Quiet Sun, and maybe even a release from the Robert Wyatt benefit concert (1973), which featured both Soft Machine and Pink Floyd!
Smoke Signals is distributed by Cuneiform Records. You can visit their web site at: http://cuneiformrecords.com.
Contact via snail mail c/o Cuneiform Records; PO Box 8427; Silver Spring, MD 20907-8427.
Reviewed by Doug Walker