Cuneiform Rec. Isotope : Golden Section (UK,1974-1975,re.2008)****'
Isotope was a band often named in connection with Gary Boyle, its guitarist. Hugh Hopper after departing Soft Machine played with Gary Boyle and Nigel Morris in East Wind, but they left the band because it was not as much interested in discipline and musical quality as for instance Gary and Hugh wanted, so that Hugh Hopper decided to join Gary and Nigel’s other band Isotope. The band previously had featured two Nucleus musicians, who just left after a short silence for the band and were replaced by Hugh Hopper and Laurence Scott.
Recordings of this early but vibrant and skilled period were never released but luckily, especially the first professionally recorded session proved the full range of the band’s quality : sophisticated jazz-rock, with at times fast talking and singing electric guitars (2), -comparable to a singer imitating the Indian tabla- or just swinging softly, or like complex melodic jazz-rock (swinging like crazy!!), by Gary Boyle, -perhaps somewhat inspired by Mahavishnu Orchestra?-, with moody jazzy keyboards (a bit like mid period Ratledge Soft Machine, a bit jazzier), with an at times rather edging the tapping range of the fingers jazz tension of inner expansion by Laurence Scott and the subtle complex drums/percussion by Nigel Morris and Aureo de Souza (from which the label mentions he adds a Weather Report-inspired flair to its sound), -never dominating, never adding more than needed-, and then Hugh Hopper with a groovy sliding/moving fuzz bass where needed, or elsewhere just warm and smoothly in the rhythmic mood.
The musicianship mixed with a moodiness of this band is simply amazing, makes this recording session highly attractive. This was clearly unspoiled by any intellectualized standards. This first session (6 tracks) was done in Bremen, Germany in 1975.
The second session, mixed a bit fast hereafter came from a live session in NY a few months later, starts I guess also somewhere in a session (without being disturbed by this idea). Here the drums show i.e.complex jazz tickings, roaring grooves of bass,... Then Gary Boyle goes crazy with discipline…. Its rhythm seems to be speeded up, but calms down as easily, before leading into the next track. I love each part in it (just listen for instance to the wonderful smooth bass leading along the sections of grooves, and the slightly Mahavishu-alike guitar improvisations, a tension of stretching and restraining speed into a jazz-rock tension, before concluding the composition with a theme-ending). The last, less intensive and ambitious, rather moody section was recorded in London just a few months after the first session.
For me Isotope especially on these two first sessions pretty much shows a next step from Canterbury/jazz-rock, from the point where Hugh Hopper had left Soft Machine.
For those who don’t know Gary Boyle’s previous history : he worked a few years for Dusty Springfield then joined Brian Auger’s Trinity with Julie Driscoll, with first jazz-rock influence appearing here, then cooperating in studio with musicians like Mike Gibbs, Keith Tippett and Mike Westbrook. Isoptope had a first album with the first line-up in 1974, their two next ones were recorded in 1976, before Hopper left to record his second solo album. There exists one more Isotope album, live at the BBC, published by Hux in 2004.