Monday, 5 November 2007

Hugh Hopper...

No more cheap shots at Esmond Selwyn's graphic designer, or Rick Wakeman for that matter, but this review nicely continues the recent theme on this page of progressive jazz (Progjazz?) from the UK.

Listening to Mujician's There's No Going Back Now as I type, and with just three days to go before the gig, excitement is ratcheting up by a few more notches. Oh, the joys of an empty life...

Hopper Tunity Box
Cunieform Records (Rune 240)

Hopper Tunity Box; Miniluv; Gnat Prong; The Lonely Sea And The Sky; Crumble; Lonely Woman; Mobile Mobile; Spanish Knee; Oyster Perpetual.

Elton Dean (as, saxello); Gary Windo (bcl, reeds); Marc Charig (c, thn); Frank Roberts (ky); Dave Stewart (ky); Richard Brunton (g); Hugh Hopper (b, g, ss, perc); Mike Travis (d); Nigel Morris (d).
Recorded May to July 1976.

I remember during my time as a concert promoter the extraordinary pull of British reedsman Elton Dean, who could grow an audience two or three-fold over a roughly equivalent band without him. This appeal was due in large measure to his association with ‘70s Jazz Rock pioneers Soft Machine. Californian-based record label Cunieform have many of the musicians associated with this particularly English branch of fusion at the backbone of their catalogue. Their re-issue of ex-Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper’s output continues with this gem from 1977, an album which many commentators at the time believed to be the equal of the seminal group’s Third and Fourth LP’s.

Hopper left Soft Machine in 1973, and the ideas he’d been working on during that time all came together in this session. This, unlike previous versions, is a fully re-mastered re-issue, and it sounds as fresh as Eberhard Weber’s ECM classics Silent Feet and Yellow Fields, from the same era. The scope of Hopper’s music is broader and the sound less pastoral than Weber’s brand of fusion, however, though the comparison is nevertheless an interesting one.

Aside from the hymnal reading of Ornette Coleman’s ‘Lonely Woman’, the remaining pieces are all Hopper originals. Recorded from the bass-up, guest musicians added their parts during the later stages of the production, though the live sound that Hopper achieves in no way betrays this process. Different groupings appear on each track, and aside from the ebullient Dean, who shines on ‘The Lonely Sea And The Sky', Frank Roberts adds tasty electric piano to ‘Crumble’, and Dave Stewart’s organ and processed keyboard are impressively spacey on the funky ‘Gnat Prong’. The closing ‘Oyster Perpetual’ is a delicate multi-tracked Hopper solo, foreshadowing later excursions into the world of multi-tracking and electronics.

The album’s punning title may be exactly the kind of arch cleverness critics find symptomatic of this much maligned genre, but it shouldn’t get in the way of some very fine and forward-looking music. I don’t know what Hughie Green would have made of Hopper Tunity Box, but with more than enough jazz content to grab doubters among our readership, this impressive piece of work can be approached with little trepidation.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, July 2007)

1 comment:

Gary said...

I've always enjoyed Hugh Hopper's bass playing, but it isn't something that I listen to very often. I am a big big fan of his work with Soft Machine of course (Third, in particular - in fact I'm gonna dig it out now), but I've also been listening to Hughscore - Highspot Paradox - I picked it up cheap somewhere - and yes, I'm a hatfield/henry cow/matching mole fan too (lapsed)