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Soft tissues

Artchipel Orchestra 3If you happen to be in Italy, and you get a move on, you can probably still buy the September issue of the monthly magazine Musica Jazz, which has a cover-mounted CD: Ferdinando Faraò & Artchipel Orchestra Play Soft Machine. For several reasons, this is a good thing to own.

Faraò set up the orchestra four years ago, with an unusual mission: to reinterpret the work of British jazz and jazz-rock composers of the late 1960s and early 1970s. After making a start on Mike Westbrook, Fred Frith, Dave Stewart and Alan Gowen, he moved on to the Soft Machine. Most recently, in June, the orchestra’s guests at the Fasano festival were Keith and Julie Tippetts. Their leader obviously sees something he likes in the music being made in London during an all too brief era when young rock and jazz musicians worked freely together and anything seemed possible.

The CD that comes with Musica Jazz concentrates in particular on the compositions of the late Hugh Hopper, the Softs’ bass guitarist from 1968 to 1973. Five of Hopper’s tunes — “Facelift”, “Kings and Queens”, “Noisette”, “Dedicated to You But You Weren’t Listening” and “Moustrap” — are among the seven tracks on the 55-minute CD, which was recorded in a Milan studio last December. The other two are Faraò’s “Facelift: Prelude”, an atmospheric introduction to the set , and Robert Wyatt’s classic “Moon in June”, concluding the album in a loose but well organised interpretation featuring Filippo Pascuzzi and Serena Ferrara, two of the ensemble’s four singers.

Faraò and his fellow arranger, Beppe Barbera, aren’t making carbon copies of the originals here. They’re devising revisions that bring unusual resources to bear on the material, exposing facets of beauty that we might not have imagined to be present, even in embryo. To “Kings and Queens”, first heard on Soft Machine’s 4 in 1971, they bring the vocal quartet, a bass riff doubled by Simone Mauri’s bass clarinet, and colouristic interventions by Flavio Minardo’s sitar, Eloisa Manera’s violin and Paolo Botti’s viola. “Dedicated to You…”, which dates from 1969, is successfully rearranged for acapella voices in a treatment inspired by the Delta Saxophone Quartet’s version.

This band has improvisers of substance, too, as we learn from the thoughtful contributions of Germano Zenga’s tenor saxophone, Felice Clemente’s soprano and in particular Massimo Falascone’s unaccompanied alto on an expansive reading of “Noisette”, which Hopper wrote in 1969 and which first appeared on the Softs’ Third in 1970.

I’ve been listening recently listening to Hopper’s solo album, 1984 (released in 1973), and to Canterburied Sounds, the four-CD set of archive material recorded between 1962 and 1972 in mostly informal situations by the various early members of the Softs, and released in full last on the Floating World label. The Artchipel Orchestra’s album presents another perspective on the work of a fascinating musician, and deserves a proper commercial release.

(Addendum: See Alessandro’s reply for information on how to get hold of the relevant issue of Musica Jazz.)

* The photograph of Ferdinando Faraò and the Artchipel Orchestra was taken by Angela Bartolo at the Ah Um festival in Milan in 2011 and is taken from the band’s website:



6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for this Richard, really useful. There are three of Fernandino Faraò’s albums on for those who subscribe to that. Unfortunately, the Soft Machine albums is not there yet. But there’s plenty else to get stuck into with one featuring Phil Miller of Hatfield and the North.

    September 12, 2014
  2. I was just in Italy but I missed this. Reminds me of Around Robert Wyatt by the Orchestre National de Jazz.

    September 13, 2014
  3. Mick Steels #

    Saw the Delta Saxophone Quartet recently, besides playing pieces by Terry Riley, the highlight was a riveting account of “Facelift”/”Kings and Queens”. With drummer Simon Pearson offering a welcome rhythmic pulse the performance was topped by scintillating alto playing by the always impressive Pete Whyman

    September 13, 2014
  4. Hello from Italy!
    A few clarifications:
    * I don’t think that there will be a “proper commercial release” of “Ferdinando Faraò & Artchipel Orchestra Play Soft Machine” but it can be ordered anyway also from outside Italy, writing to musicajazz[at] (in Italy the September issue of “Musica Jazz” magazine + 2 CDs costs 9 euros; I don’t know how much from abroad). After mid October, the band itself will get many copies of the cd alone and I think that some international mail order catalogues might be interested in stocking it. You can check it writing to artchipelorchestra2010[to]
    * There is no double bass in “Ferdinando Faraò & Artchipel Orchestra Play Soft Machine”: Gianluca Alberti only plays bass guitar here, while he played double bass in the first Artchipel cd.
    * “Noisette” doesn’t “officially” appear on “Third”, although its theme is heard there (followed by the theme of “Backwards”), at the end of “Slightly All the Time”.
    All the best
    P.s.: there is a typo: “Hopper, the Softs’ bass guitarist from 1978 to 1983”. Of course Hopper was the Softs’ bass guitarist from 1968 to 1973.
    And Fernandino Faraò is actually Ferdinando Faraò.

    September 13, 2014
  5. Martyn Roberts #

    Free download of this from Rai Radio 3 (Italy) until April 21st.

    April 16, 2015

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