The New Stories trio - pianist Marc Seales, bassist Doug Miller, and drummer John Bishop - flies both alone and special-guest-augmented on this bracingly fine tribute to pianist Elmo Hope. One of the most tragically fascinating figures of the Bop family, Hope's highly percussive, nervous keyboard style is less imitated than intimated here by Seales, who shows an obvious kinship with the 14 compelling Hope compositions performed. His exciting playing is buttressed by sharp, empathic work from Miller and Bishop (who has a terrific way of deploying space and texture), and a superb Rudy Van Gelder recording.
Of the guests, altoist Bobby Porcelli is simply great in this music - no surprise, given his deep experience with another Bop era individualist, Thelonious Monk, through the T.S. Monk and Monk On Monk Tentet bands. He digs into the nooks of "Sims A Plenty" and "Roll On" with a beautifully-nuanced tone, then flies through his solos with a just slightly checked swing that leaves the listener hungry for more. The trio generously shares their disc with Hope's widow Bertha, a recording/performing pianist in her own domain; on "This Sweet Sorrow" (known in Hope's repertoire as "Barfly"), they hand the reins over totally, to the trio of pianist Ronnie Mathews, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Kenny Washington. Accompanying vocalist Roberta Gambarini on her own lyrics to Hope's tune, the bittersweet vocal and pensive mood they present affectingly embody Hope's lingering historical presence.
Bertha rightly gets the last word here, in affecting duets with producer Don Sickler. Her style is almost a polar opposite of her husband's, displaying a deeply-centered presence that evokes Abdullah Ibrahim in ensemble work, opening outward harmonically in solos like a furtively blooming rose. Sickler's flugelhorn replaces, and expands upon, Philly Joe Jones' billowing cymbals on Hope's 1963 recording of "Monique," seguing perfectly into "Three Silver Quarters," a one-two emotional punch that draws this very rewarding session to a close.