Hugh Hopper is most famed for his tenancy in the illustrious Soft Machine, a progfusion group that, though long since collapsed, remains influential to the more intelligent musicians in a number of cultures. His post-SM work proved to be a good deal more eclectic—fortunately not quite so off the wall as Holgar Czukay's—and not long before he passed, Hugh recorded this avant-fusion-neoclassical disc with Yumi Cawkwell, who was reviewed a little earlier in FAME (here) for her striking duet with Geoff Leigh, a highly respected player with a past boasting a number of cerebral progfusion bands (Henry Cow and etc.).
With that in mind, I needn't warn the listener not to expect more Soft Machine but rather the sort of thing Cage, Riley, Satie, Crumb, and the farside explorers commenced. The initial cut here, Long Dune, is an eerie extended exercise in building atmosphere (Cawkwell's specialty) leading into the highly orientalist Shiranui…and I'll remind readers that Cage's pointillistic piano brilliance was drawn from his far East studies and zen explorations. Here, though, it's Hopper who tears down boundaries, squorking and squonking like a Bedlam outpatient on a Friday night bender. Cawkwell maintains a fractionated piano cadence as Hopper rips up everything around her. Before dropping back to sedater measures, he gets so dissonant that it wouldn't have surprised me to see Merzbow dropping in for a cameo.
I suspect—rather, I dearly hope—Cawkwell becomes a larger presence in the outside music community. She ushers in flavors occidentals too easily bypass, missing a treasury of tones and terrains much needed in the artistic palette. As compared to, say, the artificialities of Lucia Hwong, Ms. Yumi is uncompromising in her dedication to abstract authenticities, a Redon-influenced Yoshitoshi in an oft-vanilla noveau riche sewing circle of manufactured avant-garde consensus (think Laurie Anderson). Hopper outdid himself in his last days by teaming with her, his death all the more lamentable when considering what was yet to come.
Perhaps with a cat-got-the-cream grin, I'll recommend this as meditation music (Ikkyu would be pleased) or falling-asleep fare. Strange visions and consciousness expansion can be pretty much guaranteed. Besides, you were getting pretty damned sick of the whole stanza / stanza / intro chorus / stanza / stanza / middle eight / stanza / stanza / outro chorus / stanza /stanza gig, weren't you? Of course you were. Well, there's absolutely none of that here, rest assured.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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