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An Historic Look at Hugh Hopper's Legacy of Progressive Jazz

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The late Hugh Hopper was a major figure in the Canterbury scene in the UK, helping to forge in the late Sixties/early Seventies what has grown into Progressive Music, and later exploring modern jazz tuneage. His style of bass playing has been internationally lauded and stands today as a pinnacle that few other bassists manage to achieve.

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HUGH HOPPER: Volume 1: Memories (CD on Gonzo Multimedia)

This 2014 release features 63 minutes of modern and abstract jazz music.

This CD offers a selection of rare tracks, each with brief introductions by Hopper...

"Memories" Hopper's demo with Soft Machine from 1969 (with Hopper on bass and acoustic guitar, Mike Ratledge on piano and organ, and Robert Wyatt on drums and vocals). Besides its historical value, this piece illustrates Soft Machine's fluid gestalt with dreamy guitar, lilting keys, restrained percussion, understated bass, and Wyatt's unique vocal crooning.

"Was a Friend" by the FrangloBand from 2004 (with Hopper on bass, Patrice Meyer on guitar, Pierre-Olivier Govin on saxophones, and Francois Verly on drums). The song is languid and graceful, allowing each instrument to flourish as the players blend their expressions into a fusion of modern jazz with Middle Eastern influences.

"Shuffle Demons" by North & South from 1995 (with Hopper on bass, Steve Kettley on saxophone, Paul Flush on keyboards, and Mike Travis on drums and percussion). Here, straight-ahead modern jazz is the motif. The keys twinkle, the sax soft blaring mounts to an emphatic wail, the percussion is intricate, but Hopper's fuzz bass shines with its spooky rumble.

"Playtime" Hopper interpreting Alan Gowen in 2002 (with Hopper playing computer programming). While Hopper employs the computer to basically produce keyboard sounds, there some rhythms too, resulting in a driven-but-calming melody whose fundamental jovial nature is seasoned with a touch of darkness.

"Debonaire" by the FrangloBand in 2004 (with Hopper on bass, Patrice Meyer on guitar, Pierre-Olivier Govin on saxophones, and Francois Verly on drums). Another easygoing jazz delight as the performers craft a tune of timeless beauty from warbling horn, chugging rhythms, slippery guitar and almost subliminal basslines.

"MGH" by Hugh Hopper & Nigel Morris in 2002 (with Hopper on fuzz bass, and Morris on drums and percussion). While the percussion is basically random and abstract, Hopper's contribution lends a touch of cohesion to things, even a trace of melody.

"Long Piece" a Hopper computer collage from 2002 (with Hopper mixing many friends via computer samples). And yes, it is long-at 16 minutes. But do not be deceived by the "collage" label, for Hopper takes a full range of instruments (from horns to beats to guitar to bass) and mixes everything together to create a composition that starts out like a Steve Reich piece (with an evolving looping of a voice speaking the song's title) and soon progresses into a fluid track that's strong on structure and melody. He makes the saxophone jump and wobble and contort into novel patterns. He takes a cyclic keyboard chord and transforms it into the basic for an upsurging of an orchestral nature, replete with snarling guitar riffs. With the introduction of drums and some rumbling bass, a bouncy tune is generated and coaxed into running its course for a while...before a harsher version of that keyboard loop bullies it way to the forefront, clearing the way for a stretch of more soothing tuneage (almost church music), which swiftly gives way for the emergence of a more urgent jazz tune.

A guaranteed pleasure for longtime devotees and a wonderful introduction should you be unfamiliar with Hopper's legacy.

The release includes a 20 page booklet featuring remembrances, pictures, and an interview with Hopper from 1997.

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HUGH HOPPER: Volume 2: Frangloband (CD on Gonzo Multimedia)

This 2014 release features 70 minutes of modern jazz music recorded live at Le Triton, in France, on March 13, 2003.

FrangloBand consisted of: Hugh Hopper (on bass), Patrice Meyer (on guitar), Pierre-Olivier Govin (on saxophones), and Francois Verly (on drums and tablas), with special guest Didier Malherbe (from Gong) on flute and saxophone on one track.

The band existed between 1999 to 2005, but only performed six gigs. Instead of crafting new tuneage, FrangloBand existed primarily to perform classic songs, such as Hopper's "Facelift," "Lonely Sky and the Sea," "Sliding Dogs," "Shuffle Demons," "Wanglo Saxon," "Mimiluv," and John Coltrane's "Mr Syms."

Smoothly delivered modern jazz tuneage with a progressive twist.

The horns are strong and silvery as they croon out sinuous melodies which can slide from somber riffs into bouncy chords. Often the horns generate a sedate yearning with their warbling wail.

The guitar exhibits a salty tang with nimble-fingered riffs that sear without scorching. Hints of fusion slip in every once in a while, as the instrument gets wrapped up in its own fever.

The drums are suitably agile, maintaining beat structures in a fashion that can any second divert off into expansively elaborate rhythms. More than simple providing locomotion to the songs, the percussion often guides things into elegant diversions.

The bass provides more than just fundamental tempos. Hopper's shivery resonance possesses a thunderous undercurrent that is often held in restraint, suppressing the notes into a buzzing rumble that is as attractive as it is integral.

The compositions reflect a slick professionalism, one derived from decades of performing. The basic jazz template is teased with modern touches, resulting in tunes whose appeal transcend several genres. But this music will delight even listeners who don't care about contextual classification. The melodies are spry and the performances are superb.

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