Hugh Hopper/Simon Picard/Steve Franklin/Charles Hayward
Sometimes, once in a while, I still think about the old "Canterbury sound":
not the clearest possible definition of a musical
"genre", I know, though I happen to know quite a few people who
proudly say "I recognize it as soon as I hear it". A very communicative
sound, and in its own particular way, quite "popular", though liked
only by some "happy few", obviously. A sound experience which can
still enrapture both teens and twenty-somethings (I've got proof). Here I'm
only talking about the old albums, obviously - very often, those trying to
take the story into the present have made for very embarrassing listening
moments. Hence, while looking at the "cast of characters"
my curiosity has often turned into apprehension.
Hopper's name needs no introduction. Not as familiar to this writer, Simon
Picard (on tenor sax) and Steve Franklin (on keyboards) I had met some
time ago on a CD by Hopper (Picard is also a member of Phil Miller's group).
The name that looks like it almost "doesn't belong" here is Charles
Hayward: what is he doing here?
is known by most for his having been a part of This Heat. I got to know
his playing - his prodigious skills as an "assertive timekeeper with
a high colour intensity" in the group Quiet Sun, led by Phil Manzanera.
Then, I greatly appreciated him in the quite different music of Camberwell
Now. A solo album of songs - Survive The Gesture -, then a collaboration
with a group led by Fred Frith, Keep The Dog. Then, again with Frith -
and also Bill Laswell - in the second line-up of the trio Massacre. Though
not too closely, I've always kept in touch with Hayward's career, convinced
as I am - then, and now - that the "total improvising" context
is not really the one the suits him best; though I'm well aware of the
fact that a group "like in the old times" - with a recognizable
sound, a personality as a whole, and a very close rapport between its members
- is today a financial impossibility.
Hayward: what is he doing here? Then I remembered that Hayward (just like
Chris Cutler) had been a part - with Hugh Hopper - of the Oh Moscow project,
by Lindsay Cooper, though there is no official trace of this (on the Oh
Moscow album, released in 1991, Marilyn Mazur is on drums). A recent investigation
revealed the existence of a group called Clear Frame, where Hopper and
Hayward play with Lol Coxhil and Orphy Robinson.
start of Numero D'Vol - it's the number that gives the album its name -
sounded really unexpected to me: some blowing into a tenor sax, piano,
synthesizer, a slow pulse on drums (it sounds like a bass drum to me),
a "pedal" on the synth, a colloquial tenor; then cymbals, and
the bass, to fragment the electronic element, then a dialogue of sax and
piano. It sounds like the tenor sax - at times, a sound like a "strangled" reed
reminded me very much of Gary Windo - chooses a tonal area inside which
it walks with no trace of ever being in a hurry - but not relaxed. We have
a coda by the piano, cymbals and snare drum, and strong "hits" by
Hopper. Beautiful and strange, and totally unexpected.
The Spot follows: we have a bass played with fuzz, drums, synth. Gruppettos
of notes on the piano, travelling from one channel to the other, reminded
me for a moment of the piece Drop, by Soft Machine. A strict tempo, then
bass and drums accelerating, nice phrasing by the tenor sax... like a jazz
solo with a backing by the rhythmic section of Can!
we have Earwigs Enter: a "clangorous" rhythmic section, sounding
almost like techno, a synth, tenor saxophone (again in its "Gary Windo"
mode), a menacing descending figure that's played on the synth, then groove.
try to give readers a hint of what's happening here. An
"artificial-sounding" rhythmic section of "wrong"
proportions, changing planes, roles and volumes that change continuously,
the act of confounding one's expectations the causes great enthusiasm. The
drums - really wide in the stereo field, with a lot of different timbres
- work as a
"canvas" where saxophone, piano and synth are placed; the (high)
volume of cymbals and drums makes it possible for Hopper - who is obviously
always ready to create riffs and rhythmic "pivot points" any time
this is appropriate - to greatly explore a new role, creating colours and
so offering shades that at times sound quite new. There is the lesson of
techno, there in the background, and of all the music created "in the
box", with plug-ins and the strong modification of what has been recorded.
But it's at our own peril that we forget of the lesson of the "artificial" work
of Teo Macero with the "electric Miles" (Davis).
Bee has a sax and a piano sounding quite "classic", but given
a new light by the accents from bass and drums, here playing at a very
high volume. Nice piano solo.
hi-hat gives propulsion to Get That Tap, where the drums sound quite
"tribal", with a touch of phasing, a meditative sax and (at exactly
5') a synth straight off Soon Over Babaluma.
a nice one called Bootz, while Shovelfeet greatly benefits from the mobile
pulse of the rhythmic section; at the end there's a frenetic piano, with
Knees Man has an hypnotic bass figure, some swing on snare drum/hi-hat,
then a very beautiful "organ" solo, with appropriate backing
by bass and drums. A very elegant "cool" ending, too, with the
snare audible in the snare drum, and nice brushes.
nice start with a bass that's almost "flamenco", and a
"lyrical" tenor, on Straight Away, with a nice instrumental dialogue.
A nice piano solo (which sounds "pasted" to me) on Twilight. Some
Other Time is a beautiful and quite appropriate close.
can I add here? Well, hands down, for me it's the "surprise album
of the year". A surprise I tried to investigate well beyond my "critical
duties" by listening to the album in the course of ten days, just
to make sure. An album that still managed to surprise me after ten (very
attentive) listening sessions.
- here also working as a producer, well assisted by engineer Julian Whitfield
at Delta Studio in Canterbury - has really hit the bull's eye with this
album. I only hope that promoters are as intelligent as I hope they are,
and that the group has a budget that's high enough to replicate on the
bandstand all the
"wrong" proportions they achieved in the studio.
closing, I sincerely wish thirty years of bad luck to all those who will
download this CD for free.
© Beppe Colli 2007
CloudsandClocks.net | Sept. 18, 2007