Isotope: Gary Boyle (guitar); Laurence Scott (keyboards); Hugh Hopper (bass instrument, bass guitar); Nigel Morris (drums, drum); Aureo De Souza (percussion).
In their brief five years of their existence, Isotope carved a steely jazz-rock identity based on the individual sound of electric guitarist Gary Boyle, whose greatest quality was a fluid, loud, riff oriented style that was an extension of John McLaughlin, and a precursor to Allan Holdsworth. Sponsored financially by such disparate entities as British Lion Films and Motown Records, the band toured Europe extensively, and played major cities on a brief American tour, opening for acts like the Average White Band, Manu Dibango, the Allman Brothers, and Humble Pie among others. This CD of previously unreleased material centers on their most fruitful period of 1974 and 1975 near the end of the band's existence. When fuzz-electric bass guitarist Hugh Hopper left Soft Machine to team with Boyle, the excellent fusion drummer Nigel Morris, and dentist/keyboardist Laurence Scott, the band took off. You can hear the foursome clearly pushing and pulling on the hard-edged sound of Boyle into more funky music, which eventually was the cause for its demise, aside from their management pulling the plug, so to speak. Some heady music was made, a bit inconsistent and uneven at times, but refreshing and satisfying for those of you who still crave music from this era. The concert performances from Germany in 1975 show the band at a tipping point, using straight, tight knit jazz-rock with no frills as Boyle and Hopper sound united and lightning quick during the opener "Illusion," with Hopper's bass staring through thin prismatic colors. The quartet devolves to recurring funk strains and noodling for "Rangoon Creeper." There's a thin melody encased in a rock beat for "Attila" which is reprised later on the CD, while "Crunch Cake" is a more simplified funk, and "Mr. M's Picture" goes to a darker, stealthy, and repetitive place. Two versions of "Spanish Sun" really showcase the spontaneous direction that the band seemed to want to go, building Mediterranean or Middle Eastern motifs … la the Mahavishnu Orchestra in either no time or 3/4 ostinato. The remainder of the tracks were done while on their sole tour of the U.S. or back in London in the studio, and almost exclusively feature Hopper's compositions. They significantly represent the yin and yang aspect of the group's repertoire battles, as his tight, short themes as on "Lily Kong," "Edorian," and the title track range from a small funk dumpling, a wah-wah induced swollen melody, or the angular and sour "Golden Section" theme that is as much a signature tune as any Isotope piece. Hopper waffled in his desire for a more R&B based music after leaving the Soft Machine, yet when given the opportunity to add that aspect to Isotope, was uncomfortable with the way the group approached it. After leaving Stomu Yamashta's East Wind, Hopper had hoped for a better result, achieving it on his landmark LP Hopper Tunity Box. Boyle and Morris are quite impressive musicians who fell off the face after the final version of the band broke up, while the virtuoso Hopper sustained a credible and satisfying career for decades onward. This time capsule document of Isotope, while rare, long overdue,and quite worthwhile, pays tribute to a group whose potential was never fully realized. ~ Michael G. Nastos
Signal To Noise (magazine) (p.67) - "Highlights include Boyle's blistering lines on the Weather Reportish 'Attila,' the spacey spirituality of 'Spanish Sun,' and the funky 'Crunch Cake.'"
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