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Hugh Hopper: A Progressive Jazz Legacy (Page 2)

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HUGH HOPPER & KRAMER: A Remark Hugh Made (CD on Shimmy Discs)

This 1994 release finds Hopper in collaboration with Kramer (the multi-instrumentalist genius behind Bongwater). Together, they produce 44 minutes of truly inspired modern music that defies classification. Prog rock collides with contemporary jazz, with liberal dashes of pop and strangeness.

Ex-Soft Machine compatriot Robert Wyatt joins them on one song, lending his ethereal voice for one of the album's two vocal pieces. Featured on numerous tracks is the late Gary Windo, whose versatile and ardent saxophone made him a legend before his untimely demise in 1992. Also present is jazz percussionist Bill Bacon.

This compelling and engaging music offers no quarter as the tunes blast from weird peak to intense plateau. Walls of intricate percussion, sinuous keyboards, and raucous guitar fuse with Hopper's rumbling bass and Windo's driving sax, producing a delightful excursion far beyond the norm.

Even their version of Lennon & McCartney's "We Can Work It Out" explores sonic turf normally not attributed to such a pop classic.

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HUGH HOPPER BAND: Carousel (CD on Cuneiform Records)

Most Hugh Hopper Band releases tend to be live, reveling in the attitude of concert energy and the acceptance of any flaws as part of the actualization. This 1995  release, though, features studio recordings, of which only 17 minutes (of the total 59) were recorded live in concert in 1993.

With a fully fleshed-out sound made up of guitar, saxophone, keyboards, bass and drums (with trombone on two pieces), this music is expectedly rich, dense, and grooving. The guitar snarls with a fusion presence, growling deep and with nocturnal airs. The sax is mischievous, calling out from frisky heights. The percussion is lush, intricately winding through the mix like a rhythmic serpent. The keyboards are very subtle. While the bass is typically guttural and thundering.

This music tends to be a more up-front display of straight-ahead jazz with sneaky progressive overtones lurking in the dynamic melodies.

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HUGH HOPPER & RICHARD SINCLAIR: Somewhere in France (CD on Voiceprint Records)

Here we have the sonic union of two monster bassists: Hopper and Sinclair (from Hatfield & the North, and Caravan) Expanding their instrumental repertoire to include guitar, piano and percussives, they recorded this 35 minute release in 1996.

The most significant addition to this recording is the extensive presence of lyrical vocals (Sinclair's), a sonic aspect normally lacking among Hopper's numerous releases. Sinclair's voice possesses a rich and warbling quality that stirs the soul with ethereal tonalities. Three of the songs feature eccentric lyrics penned by Hopper.

This music growls with fuzz bass and strained guitar, yet for the most part the tunes are languid and dreamy, calling to the unrequited and yearning aspects of humanity. This fusion of vaporous sounds and emotional sentiments forms a delicate tuneage with an undercurrent of lighthearted reminiscences while never straying into maudlin or holistic territory.

Percussives appear as accompaniment, becoming an intermittent driving force in this music. Indeed, despite the highly melodic qualities exhibited by these songs, the guiding light is the lyrical content.

As indicated in the liner notes, cognac and red wine were integral elements employed by Hopper and Sinclair to achieve the appropriate state of mind to realize this project (whose roots stretch back a full decade of desiring to record together).

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ALAN GOWEN & HUGH HOPPER: Bracknell-Bresse Improvisations (CD on Blueprint Records)

This 61 minute 1996 release features live material from 1978 and 1980. Joining Gowen and Hopper on the three tracks from 1980 is Nigel Morris on percussion.

A tasty blend of fanciful keyboards and dense basslines, this music is lighthearted and pleasant, evoking dreamy contemplation and airy landscapes. The keyboards tend to be high-end with delicate notation and comfortably melodic intent. The basslines are soft and pensive, flowing like sunlight across an afternoon pasture. The counterpoint and contrast between these instruments are put into excellent play, rendering the tuneage mellow with a lively sense of frolic.

Although the keyboards and bass are played with nimble fingers, the pace retains a languid posture. Even when the velocity of notes accelerates, the music is easy on the ears.

Both Gowen and Hopper deliver a soothing sonic experience here. The music may be improvised, but displays a strong cohesion that exemplifies the command both musicians possess over their instruments. The riffs interact with each other, sliding along with superb effect.

Of interesting note, although this CD draws from the same 1980 concert as found on the Hopper & Gowen "Two Rainbows Daily" CD (on Cuneiform Records), each release features different material with no duplication.

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GILGAMESH: Arriving Twice (CD on Cuneiform Records)

Let's pause from our Hopper column for a moment to consider the immortal legacy left by the late Alan Gowen (who passed away from leukemia in 1981).

Founded by Gowen in 1973, Gilgamesh was one of Britain's legendary Canterbury bands. In 1975, Gowen co-founded another Canterbury milestone: National Health. Only two Gilgamesh albums were recorded during the Seventies ("Gilgamesh" and "Another Fine Tune You've Gotten Me Into"). "Arriving Twice" features previously unreleased recordings from 1973-75, a sonic gem to tantalize prog rock audiophiles everywhere.

This posthumous release features 58 minutes of stunningly sophisticated instrumental compositions.

The combination of guitar, bass, drums, electric piano and synthesizers forges an attractive prog rock foundation wherein the melodies scamper with intellectual amusement. The guitar and keyboards frequently trade off dominance to explore riffs of heavenly stature. Meanwhile, the basslines and drumming are relentless with their rhythmic cadence.

Dynamic and enticing, this music is thick with the sense of musicians happily jamming away to create passages of thrilling melodies.

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HOPPER & KRAMER: Huge (CD on Blueprint Records)

This 1997 release delivers maximum satisfaction with 46 minutes of further collaborations between Hopper and Kramer (the twisted mastermind behind Bongwater in the Eighties).

What starts out dense with demonstrative piano and a lamenting eastern voice soon transforms into slippery modern jazz with jolly overtones hiding behind weird effects. While a guitar snarls with hesitant fury, the bassline rumbles its way deep into your psyche. Percussion chugs along like a faithful hound dog, tongue flapping in the breeze with celebratory rhythm.

Later, the guitar gets overt and flamboyant, commanding the melodies like some adrenaline-soaked orator. Sneaky vocal effects wander through the mix, lending oblique clarification to the devious music.

Huge is a definite aspect to this music. These songs achieve epic proportion without interfering with their impressive melodic nature. The riffs are catchy and the rhythms catalytic.

Playfully eluding classification, this music compresses elements of contemporary jazz with progressive rock, under pressure and bursting for release. Moving from jovial to sinister to obsessive, these tunes blaze with the effervescence of a sun going nova right in the middle of a glorious sunrise over a stately urban skyline.

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Hopper reunites with ex-Soft Machine saxophonist Elton Dean on this release from 1998. Fresh from her "Tales from the Front Room" release, Frances Knight joins on keyboards and accordion, accompanied by Vince Clarke on drums.

This conjunction of sedentary piano and durable percussion and enthusiastic sax and sinuous bass results in 64 minutes of straight-ahead jazz that seethes and cooks with all the visionary airs of a classic John Coltrane set. The tone of the music tends to be more exhilarated though, and the basslines often bear a distinctly electronic growl.

Relaxed yet powerful, these songs infect the listener with a comfortable acceptance of life and the thrill of the moment. Although there is some evidence of chaotic fervor; the pieces are tightly knit compositions, excelling in slick cohesion and instrumental interplay. Periods of cacophonic expression sweep into more traditional structure with effortless ease.

This music breathes with the attributes of a smoke-filled cafe: pungent expresso and moody lighting and neatly-trimmed goatees.

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PIP PYLE'S EQUIPE OUT: Pip Pyle's Equipe Out (CD on Voiceprint Records)

This 1999 release delivers 42 minutes of excellently quirky prog rock.

Featured on this CD are: drummer Pip Pyle (from Gong), saxophonist Elton Dean and bassist Hugh Hopper (both ex-Soft Machine), keyboardist Sophia Domancich, and flutist Didier Malherbe (from Gong) whose sax replaces Dean's on two tracks.

With up-front sax dominating the tuneage with their joyous cries, the music possesses a distinct feeling of happytime jazz. Hopper's dense basslines thunder with subterranean growls, churning like a bucket of robot wasps. The percussion remains on-the-nose, quite present and driving, but rarely overdomineering. The keyboards (with a little synthesizer thrown in) alternate between soft piano and energetic organ riffs, lending sweeping curves to the cheerful music. The flute injects an atmospheric edge, spiraling merrily over pastures of sonic greenery.

In truth, the music found here leans more toward prog jazz than prog rock, achieving this definition through comfortable passages that float more than they surge. There are some surging pieces, but the majority of compositions revel slowly, unfolding emotional chords with meticulous restraint.

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