...(Wyatt's) skilful drumming belies former band mate Mike Ratledge's acidic comment...
Chris Jones 2002
Often seen as forming just another piece in the jigsaw of Robert Wyatt's inspirational post-Soft Machine career, Matching Mole were, in fact, a truly viable quartet of disparate individuals whose musical chops could, when the wind was in the right direction, be most agreeable indeed.
Initially formed as a touring vehice for Wyatt's disgruntled solo exit from the Softs, this release ably demonstrates how the band, with extensive touring, had settled into a formidable unit. Smoke Signals captures the band on one of their 1972 European jaunts, moving with ease between free form extemporising and the lazy swirls of Canterbury jazz-noodling. While their first album was initially conceived as a solo piece for Wyatt, by the middle of 1972 the second, Matching Mole's Little Red Record, saw the song writing being shared more democratically. Unfortunately Robert Fripp's authoritarian presence as producer had "reduced (guitarist) Phil Miller to a quivering wreck so that he could barely move his fingers" according to bassist Bill MacCormick, and the album suffered accordingly.
This live release shows, at last, what really could have been. "Nan True's Hole" by Miller is a brutal stomp, while keyboardist Dave McCrae's title track is as lovely a homage to the joys of electric piano as has ever been caught on tape. Those expecting the sweet tones of Wyatt's songcraft will be disappointed - only the first album's "Instant Pussy", with its free form scat vocals, features on this set - but his skilful drumming belies former band mate Mike Ratledge's acidic comment that: "he's never enjoyed or accepted working in complex time signatures". Pah and phooey, indeed.
The only criticisms are that "March Ides I" owes too much to Miller's idol Fripp and that, at times, the band lapse into the kind of improvisation which wilfully defies tunesmithery as if to merely accentuate their hairy jazz credentials. However, it remains a shame that, soon afterwards, Wyatt found the responsibility of being the band's mouthpiece too much to balance with his love of good times and split what could have been, on this evidence, a truly great part of Rock's avant garde elite. As to the band's name: try saying 'Soft Machine' in French...