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In the past few years there has been a revival of the legendary Canterbury scene, especially where Soft Machine is concerned. It's certainly not that progressive rock, fusion, or free jazz has fallen off the map, but the Canterburians had a sound that was distinct, yet embraced these genres. Soft Machine had a sound that was again different from peers such as National Health and Caravan, as well. Their style had more of a pop sensibility early on, thanks to Brian Ayers and Robert Wyatt. But when they moved to a more jazz-based sound on Third, Ayers was already goneafter Volume Oneand Hugh Hopper was in.
Hopper became known not only for his great style on the bass, but also his compositions: the ones on Fourth are some of the finest of the band's during this period. After putting out critically acclaimed solo records, Hopper moved on to a band that featured his moniker. This group became the platform from which fellow band member Frank van der Kooij eventually recruited Hopper and others to form NDIO.
Airback definitely echoes the more jazz-based records that Hopper was involved with during his tenure in Soft Machine, and the comparisons can't be helped. This disc, though, differs from the Hugh Hopper Band and Soft Machine in its ideology, which is certainly more structurally based and has an alluring atmosphere. But nevertheless, Hopper's trademark sound is all over the album.
The opening "Big Bombay a reworked Hopper Band pieceuses an organ track that works much like Mike Ratledge's. Yet the chilled out horns of van der Kooij mellow out the sound into almost cool tones. In the background the synthed guitar of Niels Brouwer and the trombone of Robert Jarvis create an ominous atmosphere, especially with the looped synth of Hopper, which creates a new sound that contrasts between atmosphere and jam. Pieter Bast's skins work comes out in pulsating rock work and then slips comfortably into a jazz beat in a second.
From beginning to end the record uses a lot interesting mixes that doesn't owe wholeheartedly to jazz, but jazz does provide the foundation. Airback is a solid debut with cutting edge work that will delight fans of prog-rock, the Canterbury school, and rock-jazz fusion.
Track Listing: Big Bombay; Last Night of the Prawns; Mr. Barn; Landscapes; Soap; Mind Interception; Stromboli; Bone; Wise Men.
Personnel: Frank van der Kooij: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Hugh Hopper: bass, samples (1, 7); Pieter Bast (drums); Niels Brouwer: guitar, nylon string acoustic guitar, guitar synth (3, 8), samples (6,8); Paul Maassen: piano, Hammond organ; Robert Jarvis: trombone; Michael Banabila: samples (2, 6).