Fricke's Picks: The Soft Machinist

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Bassist Hugh Hopper — who died on June 7th in England at age 64 — was a quietly central figure in British progressive rock: a member of Sixties Canterbury legends the Wilde Flowers and a roadie for Soft Machine, before joining them as a member in 1968, just as the Softs' dadaistic rock mutated into an original fusion of jazz freedom and rock force, pivotally on the 1970 double LP Third and 1971's Fourth (both Columbia U.K.). Hopper's sound was brutally distinctive; he used a scouring fuzz tone.

But he was an anchoring player, emphasizing rhythmic integration and soloing with decisive vigor on the archival CDs Noisette, from a 1970 show, and Virtually, a '71 concert (both Cuneiform). Hopper — who played with leading fusion bands after leaving the Softs in 1973 — composed with the same discipline and striking results. Hopper wrote Softs blowouts like "Facelift" and "Kings and Queens"; he was also a fine balladeer. "Memories," cut as a Softs demo in 1967, and 1968's "A Certain Kind," sung by drummer Robert Wyatt with grainy poignancy, are among psychedelia's greatest heartbreakers.

[From Issue 1082-83, July 9-23, 2009]

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