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Projects Featuring Hugh Hopper: Clear Frame, Delta Saxophone Quartet, HUMI

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Hugh Hopper was a member of the seminal band Soft Machine. He is also a member of the Soft Machine Legacy, a band that continues the envelope-pushing vanguarded by the original band. Besides enjoying a well-respected solo career, Hopper has a predilection for collaborating with innumerable musicians. The man’s creativity is more than unbounded, it is a testament to fertile unharvested sonic ground.

Here are a few bizarre instances of Hopper’s creativity...

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CLEAR FRAME: Clear Frame (CD on Continuity Records, distributed by ReR USA (in USA), ReR Megacorp (in UK), Locus Solus (in Japan))

This release from 2007 offers 52 minutes of glistening discord.

Clear Frame is: Lol Coxhill (on saxophone), Charles Hayward (on drums and keyboard), Hugh Hopper (on bass), and Orphy Robinson (on vibraphone, steel pan, percussion, and fx), with Robert Wyatt (on guest coronet).

Idiosyncratic jazz that relies more on atonal clashes than any solid instance of melodic character.

The saxophone belts out sporadic bursts of notes that often seem as if they might constitute a melody if they were presented in a different order. Mournful and often full of torturous angst, the brass notes threaten to permanently scar the audience.

The bass rumbles with a super-electrified buzz, frequently sounding more like a tormented synthesizer than any stringed instrument. When the basslines become steadfast, they are immersed in a churning pool of the other instruments.

The drums are agile and versatile as they describe a seething agitation. This percussive presence is akin to a freeform explosion more so than any coherent set of tempos. The auxiliary percussion chases a similarly elusive beat, chittering away with strident impacts that dog the semblance of a central theme.

The twinkling vibraphone provides a jarring taste of melody that is usually short-lived as the other instruments fall upon it in a carnivorous feeding frenzy.

These compositions adhere to a modern form of crazy jazz, wild expressions of bewildering misdirection full of unexpected turns and developments.

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DELTA SAXOPHONE QUARTET: Dedicated to You...but You Weren’t Listening (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2007 offers 60 minutes of brass jazz interpretations of music by Soft Machine.

The Delta Saxophone Quartet is: Graeme Blevins, Chris Caldwell, Tim Holmes, and Pete Whyman (all of whom play saxophones), with Hugh Hopper (on bass and loops on one track) and Morgan Fisher (on vocals, hurdy gurdy, and background electronics on another track).

A brief history recap (for context): Soft Machine revolutionized music by introducing rock sensibilities into jazz to create the progrock genre. Here, we see a sidestep evolution as the Delta Saxophone Quartet perform some Soft Machine classics, interposing a modern jazz demeanor into the tunes. Full circle through a circuitous route.

Intricate brass arrangements cascade with fever, interpreting these songs with inventive definition. Blending shrill notes with somber chords, the saxophones treat the compositions with reverence while injecting a neoteric flair that trembles with haunting characteristics.

Restricted to horns, these nimble melodies sway with delightful cadence. The fusion of strident passages with lilting stretches generates a lavish soundscape redolent of classic jazz combos; a dash of modern temperament gives the tuneage a fruitful accessibility.

Do not expect crazy jazz here, for the general template is a relaxing one. A subtle vitality is present, seasoning the pacific tunes with endearing emotions. Romance and longing and jubilation can be found throughout this recording, providing a full range of empathic content.

These compositions are classics. The appeal of this recording lies in the novelty of their nature. Horns replacing keyboards, bass and drums. Horns striving to capture the esoteric flavor. Horns succeeding in producing an album that is fully capable of standing on its own as a lovely jazz release.

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HUMI: Dune (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2008 offers 65 minutes of edgy chaos.

HUMI is: Hugh Hopper (on bass, loops, and electronics) and Yumi Hara Cawkwell (on voice, keyboards, and percussion).

Dreamy keyboards describe erratic melodies and bass oscillations grumble in the background, while vocal effects rise from the mix to establish an exotic milieu.

The keyboards are mainly confined to piano-tinted riffs, sometimes languid and romantic, other times straying off into quirky passages that mix chaos with cohesive notes. Their passion is subdued to a point that succeeds in infecting the audience with crafty finesse.

The bass often displays eccentric pyrotechnics in its definition, mangling conventional notes into enormous sounds of scraping distortion. Experimentation is more vital here than any pursuit of rhythm or melody. The growling notes vibrate like monstrous beasts dragging their horny hides across a coarse landscape.

Cawkwell’s voice rarely adopts verbal definition, usually serving up contributions that are harmonic and haunting in their ethereal nature. When syllables appear, they are of Asian origin and warble according to Eastern scales and structure.

These compositions are generally grating and moody, edgy expressions designed to agitate the listener. These gritty tunes explore an aimless miasma whose direction is difficult to discern. When melodies do appear, they are swiftly mired under playful turmoil.

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