British saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Brian Hopper may not be as well-known as his brother, bassist Hugh Hopper of Soft Machine fame. He has, however, been a part of the same Canterbury scene since the '60s, when he was a member of the pre-Soft Machine collective the Wilde Flowers, along with a number of other artists who would go onto varying degrees of greater famefuture Softs members including brother Hugh, keyboardist Mike Ratledge, and drummer/singer Robert Wyatt; future Hatfield and the North and Caravan bassist/vocalist/guitarist Richard Sinclair; and Caravan guitarist Pye Hastings. Appearing on the groundbreaking Soft Machine recording Volume Two and the relatively recently-discovered Spaced, Hopper's saxophone contribution predated Elton Dean's, demonstrating a style that, while decidedly jazz-informed, was less avant than Dean's more outré work with the Softs.
In recent years Hopper has been involved with a number of archival releases of live Soft Machine recordings from the early '70s, including Somewhere in Soho, Facelift, and Breda Reactor, all culled from Hopper's private collection. But while he has been occupied at looking back at what is considered to be Soft Machine's classic period, he's also been busy creating new music, which is only now beginning to see issue, thanks to the UK Voiceprint label. Which brings us to If Ever I Am, a clearly eclectic collection of materialsome old, like the psychedelic "The Pieman Cometh and Indian-tinged "Hope for Happiness, which come from the Wilde Flowers repertoire; and some new, including the funk jams "Blowit and "Blewit, which bookend the album, and the fusion-inflected "Modality, which features brother Hugh on bass and solo flanged bass.
The album represents a couple of years of work, with Hopper layering various keyboards and synthesizers, bass, drum programming, and more along with his rather distinct saxophone playing, which doesn't really seem to come clearly from any traditional jazz source, although there are indications of it buried somewhere underneath. Hopper then brought in guest artists including Robert Wyatt, who contributes vocals, cornet, and trumpet to the Wilde Flowers material whichwith modern sampling and synthesizer technologyend up being closer to what Hopper envisioned all along.
Hopper's varied program includes ambient-cum-fusion workouts like "Two to Tutu Too, which also features Robert Fenner on guitar; the lounge-jazz ambience of "Sometimes It Is and the title track, featuring pianist Frances Knight and singer Ansy respectively; and even a go at techno on the pulsing "For Freedom.
Specific fans of the Canterbury scene will find plenty to like here, but the appeal of If Ever I Am, with its diversity of influences, has a broader reach as well. Fans of all progressive rock with a jazz edge would be well-advised to check out If Ever I Am. While Hopper may not have the name recognition of his brother, he is equally capable of creating intriguing music that, despite its eclecticism, manages to retain a certain sense of focus.
Blowit; The Pieman Cometh; Two to Tutu Too; Sometimes It Is; Akamalaka; Hope for Happiness; Tarzapark Rarka; For Freedom; Modality; If Ever I Am; Blewit
Brian Hopper (tenor and soprano saxophones, electric piano, bass, drum programming, piano, synthesizers, sequencing, midi wind controller, sampling) With: Robert Wyatt (vocals and trumpet on
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