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Hugh Hopper - Hopper Tunity Box CD (album) cover


Hugh Hopper

Canterbury Scene

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3 stars Hugh Hopper´s second album was originally conceived in 1975, when he was retrieving old music by the time he left SOFT MACHINE. Played with very well known collaborators from the period, Hugh Hopper played basess, and the rest of the musicians added their music to the original lines, combining different formations, from the solo to the quintet. After all the music was played, Hugh Hopper and producer Mike Dunne rearranged the songs and made different modifications, adding some other effects that would eventually result in this record.

The record starts with "Hopper Tunity Box", a dark introdcution on quartet, simple but effective. Very remarkable the job of Gary Windo on bass clarinet, giving that particular mood to the music. It is also a bit strange to listen to Dave Stewart in such a quiet mood, but it won´t last too long, because the craziness at the end will change the whole sound, turning into a free jazz vein. The quartet continues and, without interruption, the next song starts, "Miniluv", previously appeared in 1984, but much more elaborated, and the band like sound gives it a very different appeal, mainly by Gary Windo´s sax.

With "Gnat Prong" appears a new change on the record, and the band plays as a powerful trio; incrdeible rhytmic section and great job of Dave Stewart on modified organ, performing different solos through a basic rhytmic pattern, more in the typical Canterbury style than experimental, but, nonetheless, very aggressive. The song ends with a slow, dark and mysterious final played by Dave Stewart and Hugh Hopper on fuzzed bass. One of the most remarkable moments of the whole record.

"The Lonely Sea and the Sky", self defined by Hugh Hopper as a neo-Coltrane tune, is played by the quintet, with Mark Charig and Elton Dean. A simple song that reminds me the lightest side of GILGAMESH. The most remarkable is Elton Dean´s saxellos and Mark Charig´s muted cornet, very delicate and intimate, and gives an adequate relax to the previous climax.

Next song, "Crumble", played again on quintet, is basically guitar and piano riffs, in the electric jazz fussion vein, growing with the addition of Gary Windo´s saxes. I don´t consider this piece one of the best of the album, and the faded out ending, that I don´t really enjoy, makes it look unfinished.

The experimental and improvisational aspect of the music appears again with a cover of Ornette Coleman´s "Lonely Woman", improvised with sketches by different musicians, with ambient bass and looped percussions on the background. Interesting, but not outstanding.

The power trio appears again in "Mobile Mobile", another of the great moments of the record. It starts with speed modified bass and drums, but the middle section is played at normal speed with Dave Stewart in superb soloing. The final section is the same as the beginning, but a bit crazier, so the whole tune completes the circle and shows how ellaborated it was at its time.

The record returns to Canterbury again in "Spanish Knee", played on quintet again. On this occasion, there are different accelerations through the main theme, with great solos by Elton Dean, increasing on craziness through the piece, but the fade out at the end is not, in my opinion, the best way to finish that great job, so it is a bit disappointing.

The last song of the record, "Ogster Perpetual", is a solo played by Hugh Hopper on multitracked basses. An intimate song in which you can realize his high quality and inventiveness, bearing in mind the technical elements of the time. A great closure for the record.

It is a bit difficult for me to rate this record, because I have different feelings to it. I am very fond of its music and its historical value, but it actually sounds more as a friends meeting, than as a band. And although I consider it very interesting, not only for the technical aspects, but also for the musical content, I don´t think it could appeal to other people less interested in discovering Hugh Hopper´s music and other offshots of that period. Furthermore, there are some downs on the record that prevent me from givng it a high rating. For me, it would be a 3.5 stars record. For those interested in digging the different projects of musicians related to the Canterbury scene it should be a record not to be missed, but for the rest it wouldn´t be so essential, so I will finally rate it with 3 stars.

Report this review (#191958)
Posted Friday, December 5, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars This was Hugh Hopper's second solo album but the first he released after leaving SOFT MACHINE. Hugh hooked up with recording engineer Mike Dunne who had been the assistant engineer on his first record ("1984"). Mike was now in charge of the mobile studio of Jon Anderson of YES. Mike suggested that he could provide the studio while Hugh would provide the music and musicians. Hugh notes: "By the time I had arranged the music into some sort of coherent order and invited the various guest musicians, Mike's studio was set up in one of London's big film sound studios, where YES rehearsed for tours. Jon Anderson occasionally popped his head around the door when we were beavering away at some tricky tape-looping or double-speeded bass, and Steve Howe looked in once, I seem to remember. I knew them slightly anyway, from SOFT MACHINE tours when the two bands came together at festivals".

Guests on this album were Mark Charig, Elton Dean, Nigel Morris, Dave Stewart, Gary Windo and others. Hugh notes that when this album came out it received mostly good reviews but there was this "one ultraconservative British Jazz mag, where the reviewer said it has all the subtlety of a stone(14 pounds) of King Edwards (potatoes) tumbling downstairs and all the melodic and harmonic interest of a trapped wasp...not a jazz record, they decided...". Considering Hugh liked to change the tape speeds in the studio and layer sounds etc. i'll let him describe each song as it was difficult to know what I was hearing at times.

"Hopper Tunity Box" (1974) "The theme is played by multitracked descant and tenor recorders (about 12 descant and two tenor tracks) over a riff of electric organ, electric piano, and double tracked bass. Double speed fuzz bass then plays Hopper Tunes and quotes until an alien tune brings in Dave Stewart's weird tone-generators. All hell breaks loose and we disolve into..." See what I mean. This song sounds so good early on, kind of melancholic. It turns chaotic before 3 minutes. "Miniluv" (1978) " This is a rhythmic version of a tune which appeared only briefly on "1984". It consists of about five fuzz-bass tracks of the basic riff plus straight bass, drums, and guitar. Gary Windo's tenor sax solo steams on until a choir of soprano saxes appear to usher out the riff, leaving Gary stranded".

"Gnat Prong" (1975) " Based on the whole-tone scale. Speeded up fuzz-bass takes the first two choruses,then Dave Stewart on organ, fuzz bass again, and finally organ and into the cross fade. Just fuzz-bass and organ play the slow, repeated second section, which is on modified whole-tone sequence". "The Lonely Sea And The Sky" (1975) " A simple neo-Coltrane tune. Bass guitar at double speed introduces the theme played by saxello and muted cornet. Elton's saxello solos over a simple bass and electric piano riff. Mark's muted cornet drifts the track to a tranquil ending". "Crumble" (1976) " A chunky tune played by electric piano and speeded fuzz-bass over two basses and drums with guitar. Frank's solo bounces along, joined by Gary's three saxes riffing. The basses hum and drone, which I prefer to clear, spikey playing often heard today".

"Lonely Woman" (1958) " This tune by Ornette Coleman, has been a favourite of mine for many years, and my version of it was improvised in the studio, using different segments of various instruments playing the theme or snatches of it. The percussion (timbales and tambourine) is on a loop". "Mobile Mobile" (1975) " Based on the whole-tone scale. The first section is just drums with multitracked fuzz bass. The drums are heard at half speed and then straight as well. It's in 4-4-4-6 time. After the bridge section, a short,faster tempo in 10/4 has a speeded fuzz-solo over the bass, pianet, organ, and drums. A stripper-cue leads into the short reprise of the first section". "Spanish Knee" (1976) " A phrygian tune with a 6/4 whole-tone bridge and a solo by "phrygian" Elton Dean". "Oyster Perpetual" (1973) " A simple minor-key tune played entirely on multitracked basses. Solo is straight bass".

There you have it, a review of "Hopper Tunity Box" from Hugh Hopper himself taken from the liner notes. A big upgrade from his debut in my opinion and a solid 4 stars.

Report this review (#214616)
Posted Saturday, May 9, 2009 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

Hopper's second solo album is a much easier affair than the 1984 debut album that was released around the end of his tenure with Soft Machine, but it is much more accessible as well. I've seen this album with two different artworks (both reproduced in the excellent Cuneiform re-issue), but in the line-up, there are few usual suspects, and many first time collabs, at least on record. Indeed if Stewart, Charig, Dean, Morris and Windo are old acquaintance, there are a few names that have escaped my radar until now: Brunton, Roberts and Travis.

Opening on the very riffy title track, the mood is set on a wild and energetic jazz-rock with the usual Canterbury twists (courtesy of Stewart fuzz organ) and it is pretty announcing the color for the whole album. There is a reprise of the Miniluv track from his debut solo 1984 album that's now much in line with this album. The album seems to return to its start, where it started down with the 8-mins Gnat Prong as a trio with Stewart's Rhodes, but it resembles much the opening title track.

Elton finally appears on the calm Lonely Sea with the help of Charig on winds, but here the electric piano is held by Frank Roberts, instead of Stewart. Most interesting is the Ornette Coleman-penned Lonely women where Hopper toys with electronic drones, bass and very slowed-down triple horn section (Dean, Charig & Windo), but it's nowhere near Ornette's usual free jazz. Mobile continues in the same vein but without the horns, with Stewart and ex-Isotope drummer Nigel Morris. The album closes on the best two tracks of the album, first the energetic Spamish Knee with Charig and Dean going at it full blast and the solemnly slow bass-only Oyster Perpetual

Hopper is still working on this album with loops as he was on his first 1984, slowing and speeding them up, so it's sometimes difficult to say whether it's the band or the tape that's responsible for the tempo increase. In either case HTB is definitely an easier album to grasp and is clearly a good if not brilliant example of Canterbury sound. Whether this makes it essential is another matter as there are many other excellent Canter albums;

Report this review (#233340)
Posted Friday, August 21, 2009 | Review Permalink
Retired Admin
4 stars A Classic

I find it absolutely baffling that this little jewel only has received 3 reviews here on PA. For my money, it is a clear-cut classic, and one which spawns all the right Canterbury flavours and then some - exploding in all kinds of silhouettes and shapes through eclectic tunes that span from the quirky and playful to the experimental and all out marmalade oozing larval symphonies.

This was my first venture into Hugh Hopper's discography, and it still remains a personal fave. Just like a good deal of other Canterbury releases, on Hopper Tunity Box you'll encounter that special humorous and quirky charm that helps sweeten the punch of what can only be described as looney bin fusion. It is really. If you remove the "Canterbury" from the sound of Egg, Matching Mole, Soft Machine etc etc - then all you are left with is the kind of fusion you'd hear rolling across the western world throughout the 70s - a music with lots of flex and muscles though lacking any real identity and zing. This album however is like meeting a genuine personality - a real funny guy that shakes hands with his belt and eats seagull tacos with a pair of pliers.

Just listening to the 2 opening cuts here will better explain how special and warm this album is. They both wield a somewhat funny melodic style, that bends and writhes with big booming bass lines and funky rhythms - lead on by various wind instruments which sound remarkably twisted and provocative. They've got a childlike energy to them as well - commencing Hopper Tunity Box with a thrilling and slightly naive roller-coaster ride, that will have grown ups turned into flying Peter Pans in the blink of an eye.

Funny thing about Hugh Hopper is, that he has always stood in the shadow of others - always backed others up with his charismatic belching bass, but what some people fail to realise, is just how wonderful of an orchestrator he truly was. This man was pure genius and madness emulsified into one big bearded musician that sadly now has played his last tune. For some reason, I often think of him as the British version of Holger Czukay, and whilst that may sound strange to some of you, then hear me out for a moment. First of all, back when Hopper first started playing with Daevid Allen and Robert Wyatt in 1963 - all of them were beatniks and very much into exploring new things. Already back then Hopper learned how to manipulate sound and fiddle around with tape-loops and such. A thing he would go on to implement in his music with great success, in fact a lot of this album intertwines these small snippets of loops and fiddling - reverberating, mirroring, jolting, cascading sound back and forth to whatever effect needed. Just like Czukay studied under Stockhausen and later on transcribed those teachings onto solo albums such as Canaxis and later on with Can - Czukay and Hopper remain kindred spirits in my mind for some of the same reasons, even if these men never crossed paths in their lives. There is a sense of exploration about both of them. I can vividly imagine these music nerds deeply engulfed in old radios - playing around with signals and noises, gluing sporadic segments of sound together to form something out of this world - something wondrous.

This thought is perhaps a bit out there, I'll admit to that, but once you put this album on, I promise you'll come around - especially when you hit a number like Mobile Mobile, that sounds uncannily like a piece of Krautrock with its waving gimmickry and psychedelic undertones. This is Hopper experimenting, and even if this album still retains its melodic and naive approach throughout its playing time, the ghost of his debut 1984 still hovers over it - occasionally lending a helping hand to the proceedings - just like on this specific track.

If you are one of those who fancies name-dropping instead of silly masquerades and nebulous banter, then here are some names for ya: Mark Charig, Elton Dean, Nigel Morris, Dave Stewart, Gary Windo - all of which appear on this outing adding organs, saxophones, drums, guitars, cornets, clarinet, piano and pianet. Everything is played with great enthusiasm and the opening energetic naiveness of this album luckily carries on to the following tracks. There is not a bummer in sight, and once you get accustomed to the quirky feel of the thing - the loops, the fiddling around with tape speed and all these other playful characteristics of Hopper Tunity Box, maybe then you'll see this record as I do: like a fantastic polaroid of the Canterbury scene Hugh Hopper style.

Report this review (#743345)
Posted Monday, April 23, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars Existing at the harder end of the Canterbury-ish fusion spectrum, Hopper Tunity Box is an album which makes the case for Hugh Hopper, along with Robert Wyatt, being one of the key personalities in Soft Machine. Though he wasn't a founder member of the group, he was in the predecessor band The Wilde Flowers and joined the Softs very early on, and arguably his raw and dirty bass sound was a key element in Volume 2 and Third. High-quality Hopper solo albums like this one underscore the point that it was his bass work which gave classic-period Soft Machine its crucial edge - an edge which I feel was sidelined a little in the albums leading up to Hopper's departure and entirely absent from the group's sound after Hopper jumped ship, a process remarkably reminiscent of the silencing of Robert Wyatt's vocals.

So, if you're a Soft Machine fan who felt that the Softs lost a little something each time they jettisoned one of their key members, it'll be of interest - and fans of the less twee and more jagged sort of Canterbury may find themselves charmed by this one too. Guest spots from fellow Softie Elton Dean and from National Health's Dave Stewart are also notable.

Report this review (#861864)
Posted Sunday, November 18, 2012 | Review Permalink

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