Numero D’Vol – Hugh Hopper
Among bands who released their first album in 1968, Soft Machine may hold the record for the largest number of CDs released by their alumni in the ’90s and ’00s. Robert Wyatt gets the most attention, but Hugh Hoppers writing and fuzz bass was a key element in the success of the second and third Softs albums, and he has remained active, mostly working in a jazz/rock vein.
Numero DVol is a departure. While his contributions in the old days centered on composition, this CD is entirely improvised. And while most group-improv CDs fall into an avant garde mold, Hoppers group improvises on a rock foundation. Its territory similar to that explored by the Dead and King Crimson during their spacier passages.
A lot of responsibility for the success of these outings rests on the front man, and saxophonist Simon Picard does the most to make this CD worth hearing. He can hang back as tantalizingly as Wayne Shorter used to in Weather Reports stormiest passages, or craft a weathered, Sonny Rollins-esque narrative. Charles Hayward, best known as the drummer for proto-post rockers This Heat in the 70s, combines with Hopper for simple, driving grooves, doing the most to ground the CD in rock. Keyboardist Steve Franklin, like the latter-day Dead keyboardists, has to contend with some cheesy sounds, but provides the brooding textures that typify most cuts as well as interacting with Picard when needed.
Like their compatriots Pink Floyd, Soft Machine at its best had a great sense of adventure. Numero DVol demonstrates that this is still present in Hugh Hoppers music. One hopes that a few bands from the late ’90s will be doing as well in 2047.