Another drug casualty of the post-bop era, pianist Elmo Hope died in 1967 at age 43, seemingly putting an end to his potential influence on other musicians. But he left behind a wealth of little-known compositions that trumpeter-producer Don Sickler has now turned to good purpose on this collaborative project.
With the help of Hope's widow, pianist Bertha Hope, Sickler compiled a collection of Hope's music, wrote lead sheets and turned it over to New Stories, the excellent Seattle-based trio of pianist Marc Seales, bassist Doug Miller and drummer John Bishop. The result is "Hope Is in the Air," a loving tribute to a too-long-forgotten piano legend.
Sickler and Bertha Hope also make appearances, and alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli plays a prominent role on four of the 14 tracks. Finally, "This Sweet Sorrow" is a haunting vocal rendering of Hope's ballad "Barfly," sung by lyricist Roberta Gambarini and accompanied by pianist Ronnie Mathews, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington. In its varied settings, this sumptuous CD shows the full scope of Hope's original music.
To open the proceedings, Porcelli deftly wends his way through the stop-and-go changes of "Sims a Plenty," a mid-tempo bopper. He also graces the frenetic "One Second Please," the gently swaying "Roll On" and the hard-charging "Carving the Rock" (co-written by Sonny Rollins) with his exuberant, imaginative playing.
The Latin-tinged "Dee-Dah," the lilting "Nieta" and the aptly spicy "Hot Sauce" alert listeners to the similarity between Hope's music and that of his contemporaries Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Seales acquits himself well in this challenging role, attacking the keyboard with flair. The solid support of Miller and Bishop also is evident on tunes like "A Kiss for My Love," the gorgeous ballad "Eyes So Beautiful as Yours" and the exotic "Stars Over Marrakech."
Bertha Hope and Sickler duet on the ballads "Monique" and "Three Silver Quarters," and Hope is featured with Miller and Bishop on "Low Tide." In her expressive and sensitive playing, she shows a natural affinity for her husband's music.