Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"With the bounty of archival Soft Machine recordings currently being released, it's a good time to revisit solo works by various members of the group - and new related works as well. Bassist Hugh Hopper - a member of the near-iconic Canterbury group from '69 through '73 - has been involved in a number of recent offshoot projects including the French group Polysoft's '02 Tribute to Soft Machine and Softworks, which brought together Soft Machine alumni Hopper, saxophonist Elton Dean, guitarist Allan Holdsworth, and drummer John Marshall for an album and tour in '03.
This year there are two projects: Soft Machine Legacy, which reunites Hopper, Dean and Marshall with guitarist John Etheridge; and Soft Bounds, which teams Hopper and Dean with pianist Sophia Domancich and drummer Simon Goubert, both from France. A live Soft Bounds album is already out, with a live Soft Machine Legacy release due out later this year, and a studio recording sometime in '06.
As Soft Machine evolved over time and various players left the group, individual contributions became clearer. When Hopper departed after the release of Six, it was because the group had ceased to be interesting to him. With the recruitment of reed player/keyboardist Karl Jenkins - who would take on more compositional responsibilities as time progressed - Soft Machine's vision of jazz-rock shifted away from Hopper's. His '76 releaseHopper Tunity Box, recently reissued and available through Hugh Hopper's website, goes a long way to clarifying just what went wrong and why Hopper left.
While Hopper shares a disposition towards riff-based composition with Jenkins, their individual complexions couldn't be more disparate. Contrasting with Jenkins' safer, pentatonic-based writing, Hopper retains a more jagged angularity. He also leans towards layering more abstruse melodies and greater freedom in soloing. With Dean, reed player Gary Windo, and cornetist Mark Charig on many tracks, pieces like the darkly funky title tune, a chaotically insistent reprise of "Miniluv from Hopper's debut album 1984, and the gentle modal swing of "The Lonely Sea and the Sky bear a kind of weight that is at once more overt, yet at the same time somehow subtler and less opportunistic than where Jenkins was going with Soft Machine.
Hopper delivers a stunningly brooding version of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman - the only non-Hopper piece on the disc - with Dean, Windo, and Charig playing the familiar melody over Hopper's searching bass and electronics. "Gnat Prong, the longest piece on the album, and the denser "Mobile Mobile feature muscular solos by fellow Canterburian keyboardist Dave Stewart of Hatfield and the North/National Health fame over Hopper's constantly shifting harmonic backdrop, making one wonder why Stewart didn't get out more often.
Because of its chronological proximity to Soft Machine, Hopper Tunity Box demonstrates what was lost when he left, but more importantly it draws a clear line to future projects including his Franglo-Dutch band that would record Meccano Pelorus, as well as current projects like Soft Machine Legacy and the freer exchange of Soft Bounds." -AllAboutJazz
"In chronological terms Kevin Ayers and Hugh Hopper were the bass players in the most worthwhile editions of the British band Soft Machine, an outfit which, in the days before they became a fairly routine jazz-rock band, exhibited truly progressive ideals in terms of musical scope. Hopper left the band in 1972, and in August of the same year he recorded the album 1984(reissued by Cuneiform in 1998), which the benefit of hindsight reveals as containing some of the elements of his old band's work that he took away with him.
Hopper Tunity Box came later in the same decade and, with the exception of Ornette Coleman's perpetually idiosyncratic "Lonely Woman, it consists of Hopper compositions, all of which showcase his individuality both as a composer and instrumentalist.
In both respects Hopper was fortunate in acquiring the services of musicians entirely sympathetic to his cause. On the title track, for example, not only does his own recorder playing have the effect of making the theme statement resonate in a way it might otherwise not have, but Dave Stewart's keyboards have the effect of furthering the piece so that the listener's attention is caught by elements that are anything but run-of-the-mill.
"Miniluv," which crops up in two versions on the reissue of 1984, gets an entirely different reading again here, which demonstrates how averse Hopper is to repeating himself. Gary Windo's fractious tenor sax puts an edge on proceedings in which many a lesser player might have floundered at the same time as he too proves himself to be entirely in sympathy with Hopper's agenda.
Very few ballads have arguably been as aptly titled as "The Lonely Sea and the Sky," and both Hopper's old Soft Machine compadre Elton Dean on saxello and Mark Charig on cornet are vital to its lyrical realization. The piece also offers ample evidence of how Hopper's art is not lacking in facets just as much as it does his abilities as a bassist of rare and welcome economy. It's not difficult to see why he was Carla Bley's bassist of choice around the same time.
The fact that there is no additional material on this reissue is irrelevant, not least because there is already an abundance of music. In more recent times it seems as if Hopper has moved on to occupy different musical spaces. This has had the effect of putting some kind of seal on this title, but the music here is still the work of a man for whom the territory of jazz-rock implied a whole lot more than an excuse for endless rounds of virtuoso soloing." -AllAboutJazz
The Wire (p.47) - "The singular Hopper stamp is firmly imprinted through densely layered fuzz-bass, insistent loops, crafty editing and manipulation of tape speed."
Personnel: Hugh Hopper (guitar, soprano saxophone, recorder, bass, percussion); Richard Brunton (guitar); Elton Dean (alto saxophone, saxello); Mark Charig (tenor saxophone, cornet); Gary Windo (saxophone, bass clarinet); Frank Roberts (electric piano); Dave Stewart (organ, pianet); Mike Travis, Nigel Morris (drums).
Personnel: Hugh Hopper (guitar, recorder, soprano saxophone, percussion); Richard Brunton (guitar); Gary Windo (bass clarinet, saxophone); Elton Dean (saxophone, alto saxophone); Marc Charig (cornet, tenor horn); Frank Roberts (electric piano); Nigel Morris, Mike Travis (drums).
Recording information: Mobile Mobile (05/1976).
The jazz-fusion bassist and former Soft Machine member's second solo album was first released in 1977. Featuring performances from some of the leading lights in British fusion, including the saxophonists Elton Dean, Mark Charig, and Gary Windo, Hopper's compositions are a mix of progressive rock, such as the title track, and the lyricism of pieces like "The Lonely Sea and the Sky." "Spanish Knee" has a Zappa-like air, while "Oyster Perpetual" is a modal meditation for electric piano and bass.