Hugh Hopper's a busy man as far as recording goes these days, and this one comes more or less immediately after Soft Machine Legacy's Steam on the same label. Comparison between the two perhaps reveals this one as a more varied affair, with the music lacking the air of tension that's such a constructive feature of the other title. This music however stands up in its own right, and the fact that it's been put out by a quartet in thrall to an entirely different dynamic makes it an example of how diverse a musician's output can be.
The style of fuzz bass that Hopper has made his own comes to the fore on "Earwigs Enter" and the music is vaguely amorphous, hinting as it does at compellingly dark forces. Simon Picard on tenor sax is effectively left high and dry from the harmonic point of view, not least because Steve Franklin's keyboards are deployed as much for color as they are in laying down a harmonic foundation. The result is deeply satisfying, however, and not least because the dark timbre of Picard's sound is ideal for the music. This is apparent also on "Free Bee" where his penchant for melismatic, intriguingly unresolved phrases hints at a wealth of possibilities, especially as the leader's bass playing doesn't take on the roving commission it does elsewhere.
Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with this, anymore than there is with the deployment of his instrument as coloration on "Straight Away." On this one the mood is one of restraint at times barely contained, with that coming most overtly and paradoxically in the form of Charles Hayward's restricted drum part. Picard's work on this one is pared down and he makes every note count in a piece that's as much impressionistic as it is anything.
"Get That Tap" is in a similar vein, but again the band skilfully sidesteps every cliché in the book to fashion music as distinctive as anything here. Hopper's bass on this one assumes a quasi-percussive role and Franklin's staccato keyboard washes serve as a polar opposite to Picard's lyricism.
It's to be hoped that Hopper manages to keep this band together for further recording projects. The fact that this whole program is credited to all four members of the band suggests it's a highly cooperative effort. Fair enough if so. It's high time such values were repeatedly celebrated in these times of unscrupulous individualism.
Numero D'Vol; On The Spot; Earwigs Enter; Free Bee; Get That Tap; Bootz; Shovelfeet; Bees Knees Man; Straight Away; Twilight; Some Other Time.
Simon Picard: tenor sax; Steve Franklin: keyboards; Hugh Hopper: bass; Charles Hayward: drums.
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