Ex-Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper underwent something of a crisis of musical faith in the early '80s. Having given up musicnot even touching his bass for over a yearhe had taken a day gig and, aside from some writing, appeared to be giving up the arts for good. Then a Dutch Soft Machine fan, Kees Schep, met him in Canterbury, suggesting that if Hopper ever wanted to play in Holland he knew a lot of musicians with whom he could work.
Then in '83, as Hopper puts it, "I began to get the music virus again," and his musical spirit was revived. Joining Phil Miller's In Cahoots and Pip Pyle's Equip' Out bands amongst others, Hopper contacted Schep, who put together a group of musicians as promised, and thus his Anglo-Dutch Band was formed (later, with the addition of French guitarist Patrice Meyer, to become the Franglo-Dutch Band). Thanks to Schep and another Dutchman, Kok van Galen, the results of two early tours of this band are now available on Alive!, demonstrating a revived Hopper with a far broader set of interests than he ever displayed when he was with Soft Machine.
Combining riff-based, metrically-challenged pieces like "Turfschip Enterprise," which succeeds in shifting feels and meters without ever feeling clumsy or considered, with compositions including "Glider," which begins with an almost Weather Report-like rubato section that evolves into a 6/8 theme, showing that Europeans can indeed swing, it's clear that Hopper has returned refreshed and reinvigorated. "Lullaby Letterbomb" finds Hopper writing in an uncharacteristically Calypso mood, while "Golden Section" is a straight-time piece of funk that revolves around a simple bass hook and quirky theme that manages to feel "Canterbury" in an indefinable way.
Elsewhere, Hopper tackles pieces by other members of the sextet. Saxophonist Frank van der Kooy's "Forget the Dots" is a frenetic 7/8 piece that revolves around a simple enough two-chord vamp for powerful solos by van der Kooy and fellow saxophonist Kees van Veldhuizen, but bases itself on a complex Frank Zappa-esque arrangement. "Double Booked" is an aptly titled dichotomous piece by guitarist Hans van der Zee that alternates a darker tone poem with certain Indian interests and a walking swing passage, the contrasting sections creating an evocative tension-and-release. "Nomali" is a joyous African-centric piece that demonstrates just how diverse Hopper's musical reach has become.
While Hopper's tenure with Soft Machine is the period that defined him to many listeners, it's what he's done since then that has really shown his full capability. From his own intriguing Jazzloops series to free jazz with fellow ex-Soft Machine member/saxophonist Elton Dean and fusion with Phil Miller's group, Hopper's return to music in the '80s sparked a creative run that continues to this day with numerous collaborations. But Alive! catches him relatively close to when the muse returned to him, a lively document of an artist truly at the beginning of a new phase in his career.
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