Reservoir Music has quietly and effectively been building an impressive body of works by New York City pianists over the years, including Kenny Barron, Steve Kuhn, Rob Schneiderman and John Hicks. Now Reservoir has graciously given Bertha Hope, widow of deceased and under-recognized jazz pianist Elmo Hope, the opportunity to be counted in her own gentle way among some of her generation’s noteworthy pianists. “Nothin’ But Love” is her first recording on an American label.
After Elmo Hope’s passing in 1967, Bertha remained a favorite of New York musicians as she performed occasionally when child-raising responsibilities permitted. But the conflict and stress of those responsibilities meant that she had little time to build a career or to capitalize on her early studies with Richie Powell or her early work with Johnny Otis.
Now, in the tradition of other classic piano trios, Bertha Hope is building awareness, but more importantly, developing listeners who are attracted to the sincerity of her music. Creating a following, and in the process becoming kind of a cult figure, among female jazz musicians at the Mary Lou Williams jazz festival, Hope finally is available on CD for a wider audience to hear.
With an assured degree of technical facility, but also a calmness and devotion that can be channeled through her music, Hope’s touch is one avoiding dynamic extremes, but instead painting serene portraits, even when she goes for a bop sensibility, as on “Book’ Bok”. Even then, or on her tribute to Monk, “Gone To See T,” she can’t forsake her reassuring style and the ease of her swing. Angularity and surprise attacks and games-playing wit don’t seem to be her approach.
Rather, heartfelt emotionas expressed in the tribute to Hope’s son, Sun Rã Gurumayi, “Prayer For Sun Rã”, or on her warmly sun tune “Balm In Gilead”flows through her instrument, and thus leads to the title of her CD.
The other two members of Bertha Hope’s working trio couldn’t be more impressive either. Walter Bookerhe of notable work with Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Art Farmer and John Hicksprovides a like degree of maturity. Booker frankly sounds tremendous in arco on “Mia” or as he lopes through Cedar Walton’s “Ojos De Rojo” or the tune in his honor, “Book’s Bok”. Then there’s Jimmy Cobb, he of legendary drumming status with Miles Davis, Dinah Washington, Wynton Kelly, Sarah Vaughan and Sonny Stitt. The consummate professional, Cobb allows Hope to shine throughout her CD with bedrock percussion but also with unobtrusiveness until he breaks loose on “Ojos De Rojo”.
As RCA merges labels and Warner Brothers consolidates through combinations of conglomerates, it’s refreshing to hear deserving talent given a chance to record onwhere else?a small and scrappy label that sticks to its knitting and enlarges jazz discography and documentation in the process.