Hugh Hopper: Numero D'Vol (2007)
Legendary British bassist Hugh Hopper steps aside from his duties with Soft Machine Legacy to further his solo career, spanning back to the 1970s during those astounding Canterbury progressive-rock years. Unlike previous endeavors, the bassist integrates elements of the avant modern British jazz scene, largely due to the performance of estimable saxophonist Simon Picard. And speaking of legends, what a welcome surprise to hear drummer Charles Hayward (This Heat, Massacre) driving the often-pulsating back-beats. Hopper sports his somewhat patented monster-fuzz bass lines where required, where the progressive-jazz element is transparently fused into a distinct, group sound and scope.
On the opening title track, Hayward lays down the heartbeat with his bass drum, while keyboardist Steve Franklin's synth swashes prime the stage for a somewhat ominous motif, expanded upon by Picard's mood-evoking tenor sax choruses. Listening to this pristinely recorded endeavor yields numerous rewards, evidenced by Hayward's use of timber via his delicate cymbals accents that complement Franklin's swirling keys, providing spatial parameters that add to the album's aura. In various regions of the disc, the quartet surges through haunting dreamscapes, featuring Picard's howling cries and the leader's booming and limber lines. Yet a good portion of this set is framed within variable rock pulses and a few free-form meltdowns.
The musicians generate quirky, off-kilter passages amid Hopper's thumping bass patterns that frequently underline or, perhaps, spawn an expansive musical vista. On "Bootz, the band sports a loose-groove funk gait, driven home by Picard's darting choruses and counterbalanced by Franklin's counterbalancing piano phrasings. The quartet is apt to go for the proverbial jugular with punishing licks, but one of the many highlights pertains to Franklin's mock-Jerry Lee Lewis rock and roll chord pattern on the uncanny but endearing "Shovelfeet.
Like the dawn of day, the album instills a sense of newness and hope for the tried and true stylizations of the jazz-rock idiom. Then again, rigid categorizations are unnecessary and would simply be an exercise in futility, although we've come to expect this higher realm of artistry and innovation from Hopper.
Track Listing: Numero D'Vol; On the Spot; Earwigs Enter; Free Bee; Get That Tap; Bootz; Shovelfeet; Bees Knees Man; Straight Away; Twilight; Some Other Time.
Personnel: Hugh Hopper: bass; Simon Picard: sax; Steve Franklin: keyboards; Charles Hayward: drums.