Hugh Hopper: Hopper Tunity Box (1976)
With the bounty of archival Soft Machine recordings currently being released, it's a good time to revisit solo works by various members of the groupand new related works as well. Bassist Hugh Hoppera member of the near-iconic Canterbury group from '69 through '73has been involved in a number of recent offshoot projects including the French group Polysoft's '02 Tribute to Soft Machine and Softworks, which brought together Soft Machine alumni Hopper, saxophonist Elton Dean, guitarist Allan Holdsworth, and drummer John Marshall for an album and tour in '03.
This year there are two projects: Soft Machine Legacy, which reunites Hopper, Dean and Marshall with guitarist John Etheridge; and Soft Bounds, which teams Hopper and Dean with pianist Sophia Domancich and drummer Simon Goubert, both from France. A live Soft Bounds album is already out, with a live Soft Machine Legacy release due out later this year, and a studio recording sometime in '06.
As Soft Machine evolved over time and various players left the group, individual contributions became clearer. When Hopper departed after the release of Six, it was because the group had ceased to be interesting to him. With the recruitment of reed player/keyboardist Karl Jenkinswho would take on more compositional responsibilities as time progressedSoft Machine's vision of jazz-rock shifted away from Hopper's. His '76 release Hopper Tunity Box, recently reissued and available through Hugh Hopper's website, goes a long way to clarifying just what went wrong and why Hopper left.
While Hopper shares a disposition towards riff-based composition with Jenkins, their individual complexions couldn't be more disparate. Contrasting with Jenkins' safer, pentatonic-based writing, Hopper retains a more jagged angularity. He also leans towards layering more abstruse melodies and greater freedom in soloing. With Dean, reed player Gary Windo, and cornetist Mark Charig on many tracks, pieces like the darkly funky title tune, a chaotically insistent reprise of "Miniluv from Hopper's debut album 1984, and the gentle modal swing of "The Lonely Sea and the Sky bear a kind of weight that is at once more overt, yet at the same time somehow subtler and less opportunistic than where Jenkins was going with Soft Machine.
Hopper delivers a stunningly brooding version of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman the only non-Hopper piece on the discwith Dean, Windo, and Charig playing the familiar melody over Hopper's searching bass and electronics. "Gnat Prong, the longest piece on the album, and the denser "Mobile Mobile feature muscular solos by fellow Canterburian keyboardist Dave Stewart of Hatfield and the North/National Health fame over Hopper's constantly shifting harmonic backdrop, making one wonder why Stewart didn't get out more often.
Because of its chronological proximity to Soft Machine, Hopper Tunity Box demonstrates what was lost when he left, but more importantly it draws a clear line to future projects including his Franglo-Dutch band that would record Meccano Pelorus, as well as current projects like Soft Machine Legacy and the freer exchange of Soft Bounds.
Track Listing: Hopper Tunity Box; Miniluv; Gnat Prong; The Lonely Sea and the Sky; Crumble; Lonely Woman; Mobile Mobile; Spanish Knee; Oyster Perpetual.
Personnel: Hugh Hopper: bass, guitar, recorder, soprano saxophone, percussion; Elton Dean: alto sax, saxello on 4,6,8; Mark Charig: cornet, tenor horn on 4,6,8; Frank Roberts: electric piano on 4,5,8; Dave Stewart: organ, pianet, oscillators on 1,3,7; Mike Travis: drums on 1-5,8; Richard Brunton: guitar on 2,5; Gary Windo: bass clarinet, saxophones on 1,2,5,6; Nigel Morris: drums on 7.