British bass guitarist Hugh Hopper's recent death in the summer of 2009 throws this reissue into some sad relief. Recorded and originally released some 31 years ago, the fare is fusion of an order made rare by the fact that it's played with a measure of diffidence and an absence of empty technical fireworks. In short the music, all of it written by band members, gets the chance to breathe, yet its airy, listener-friendly surface resounds at deeper, more profound levels.
The relatively quaint sounds of analog synthesizers are here too. On "Bobberty / Theme For Something Else" they are an integral part of proceedings even in solo, which is down as much as anything else to keyboard player Alan Gowen's deft handling of them. Phil Lee's guitar work is shot through with the same quality, and there's an unassuming air about his playing, even in the trickiest of time signatures. There is, as well, a lack of fuss about the group's collective efforts that doesn't disguise how demanding its music is.
Drummer Trevor Tompkins was something of a stalwart on the British jazz scene even then, having served time in the groundbreaking quintet co-headed by reeds player Don Rendell and trumpeter Ian Carrthe latter of whom went on to lead Nucleus, one of the most accomplished British fusion bandsand here he brings his wealth of experience to bear in the most positive way. His solo which opens "Underwater Song" is a model of subtlety and restraint, its power manifesting through deft stick work and acting as the preliminary to the set's most lyrical piece. Color is also applied through subtle use of the venerable mellotron. It's always a treat to hear that keyboard used as something other than a tool for symphonic pretensions. Here its melancholy tones lend the proceedings a profound but beguilingly melancholy air.
Hopper's penchant for quirks and strangeness is manifested here on "Foel'd Again," where he coaxes unlikely sounds from his instrument, with Gowen joining him in the all too brief reverie. The closing "T.N.T.F.X" is happily explosive for all the right reasons, although even when this band cuts loose they do so with a disarming lack of rhetorical gestures. Liberties with time again disrupt the music's linear flow, although these guys know far too much about dynamics to fall foul of the usual traps. In a music purged of empty gestures theirs was all too briefly a persuasive collective identity.
Track Listing: Darker Brighter; Bobberty / Theme For Something Else; Waiting; Play Time; Underwater Song; Foel'd Again; T.N.T.F.X.
Personnel: Phil Lee; guitars; Alan Gowen: keyboards; Hugh Hopper: bass; Trevor Tompkins: drums.
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