Hugh Hopper: Hopper Tunity Box (2007)
Why re-review an album covered less than eighteen months ago? In the case of bassist Hugh Hopper's second solo album (and his first after leaving seminal British jazz-rock group Soft Machine), it's because this reissue comes very close to sounding like an entirely new record.
According to Hopper, during the mastering process of Hopper Tunity Box, an unnoticed skip during the late saxophonist Elton Dean's solo on the lyrically swinging "The Lonely Sea and the Sky made it onto several thousand vinyl copies before it was detected. A previous CD version was transferred from vinyl and included this annoying problem.
With Cuneiform's access to the original master tapes, Dean's solo is restored and Hopper's 1976 release has never sounded better, clearer, warmer or more three-dimensional. It's now possible to hear the disc the way Hopper intended it. Despite a review by a British jazz magazine that said, as Hopper puts it, "it had all the subtlety of a fourteen pounds of potatoes tumbling downstairs and all the melodic and harmonic interest of a trapped wasp, it's a more approachable album than his 1973 solo debut 1984 (Cuneiform, 1998).
That doesn't mean Hopper's compromised his skewed view of melody, his predilection for tape loops, slowing down and speeding up recordings or making joyful noise with his fuzz bass. But while there's plenty of sonic fiddling on Hopper Tunity Box, it's more of a group record, despite a changing lineup throughout. Still, with Gilgamesh drummer Mike Travis on board for most of the disc, there's a consistency in the rhythm section that carries through changes in instrumentation elsewhere.
The episodic "Gnat Prong is one of many highlights. It begins as a fiery and propulsive piece that revolves around a stunningly complex yet focused solo from (at that time) National Health keyboardist Dave Stewart, ultimately breaking down into an idiosyncratic theme layered over Hopper's visceral fuzz bass.
Stewart's performance on three tracks may be a calling card for the album, but Hopper's mate in Isotope, electric pianist Frank Roberts, delivers equally fine work on the buoyant "Crumble, while cornetist Mark Charig, the late saxophonist Gary Windo and Dean provide some added weight throughout.
The three horns come together only once, on Hopper's brooding version of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman. The familiar theme emerges front and center, then gradually breaks down as Hopper's layered and processed bass takes it to ethereal places Coleman might never have imagined.
With remasters a booming cash grab these days, it's not often that one hears a reissue that makes such a significant difference. Hopper Tunity Box is one of those rare cases where so much is revealed that it regains its relevance as a once lost but now found treasure in Hopper's discography.
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 (4,6,8); Mark Charig: cornet, tenor horn (4,6,8); Frank Roberts: electric piano (4,5,8); Dave Stewart: organ, pianet, oscillators (1,3,7); Mike Travis: drums (1-5,8); Richard Brunton: guitar (2,5); Gary Windo: bass clarinet, saxophones (1,2,5,6); Nigel Morris: drums (7).