They Might Be Hits
HUGH HOPPER/JULIAN WHITFIELD : In A Dubious Manner (Burning Shed)
Hopper’s place in the pantheon of jazz rock pioneers is pretty much assured by virtue of his work as bassist and composer with Soft Machine but his career after leaving that august institution has been continually interesting, varied and decidedly non-linear. When Burning Shed put out his ‘Jazzloops’ last year he was definitely having fun with tape loops and samples from all manner of associates and harking back to some of his earlier experiments. Now he has teamed up with wordsmith/vocalist Julian Whitfield and others to produce something which still utilises techniques from ‘Jazzloops’ along with another early interest, songs, particularly those forms that are endearingly out of kilter and slightly askew.

Never content with the conventional, but clearly enjoying a close flirtation with it, Hopper has fused greasy horns and dirty rock riffs while Whitfield’s treated vocals echo Kevin Ayers, Syd Barrett and the ghosts of several dead blues men. He has the mean rasp of a seasoned rocker, especially on ‘Got Something’, a track that also features some heavily fuzzed riffing and wailing harmonica. It’s a wall of rock solid sound that, as it steamrollers out at you, projects echoes of Beefheart and Canned Heat among others. In a different universe it would surely be a hit single. As would ‘Bogey Man’ which features Whitfield’s ‘head in a bucket’ vocals, swathes of fuzzed guitar , slivers of organ and Tony Rico’s meaty sax figures. It has an attractively sleazy groove and is one to play loud. But maybe the track with true commercial potential is ‘Wannabe’, complete with synthetic handclaps and an ‘infectiously’ repeated title. Yes, you can dance, if you want to.

If you share my aversion to the use of vocoder and think it ought to be ritually destroyed then you may be temporarily converted by Whitfield’s vocals on ‘I Have A Load, Me’ since it is allied with the type of insidious melody I could imagine Robert Wyatt writing and singing. It is completed by some perfectly minimalist keyboards and guitar. ‘Quagmire’ is a brief alliance of acrobatic sax and slide guitar from Pierre-Olivier Govin and Trevor Stevenson, respectively, with a few vocals of the ‘oh yeah’ variety that segues into the earthy, loping ‘Old Chrome Moon’. Nodding allusively to Americana again, it mixes a fat sax/trombone combination with more of those gutbucket vocals and for those thirsting for some fuzz bass, there it is at the core of the track. Music for bars where I fondly imagine truckers demanding that the jukebox has some Zappa and ‘Trout Mask Replica’ on it.

There are naturally a couple of atmospherically Hopperesque pieces too, like the aptly buoyant ‘Lost At Sea’ and the sinister trip-hop - meets - blues guitar of ‘Dimension 5’ with its menacing vocal layers. They manage to fit comfortably within the overall design of the album.

So, whether or not Soft Machine’s Third album changed your life this is a chance to hear the bass man and like ­ minded comrade, Whitfield, enjoying some experimentation with ‘rivmic melodies’ and slivers of idiosyncratic song.

© 2004 Paul Donnelly