Pianist Betha Hope has certainly been a late bloomer. Long story short, this imaginative pianist was married to the equally inventive piano man Elmo Hope. Her talents, however, would largely remain dormant for most of the '60s and '70s, apart from the few duets with her husband that were heard on a mid-'60s Riverside date. It wouldn't be until after Elmo had prematurely passed on and she was done raising the kids that Bertha would return to the performing arena. Hooking up with the Danish SteepleChase label, Hope's first recording would be 1990's In Search of Hope
, followed the next year by Elmo's Fire
and then in 1992 with the Minor Music release, Between Two Kings
. As such, and hard as it is to believe, Nothin' But Love
turns out to be Hope's first-ever domestic release.
Working with her long-time associates, bassist Walter Booker and drummer Jimmy Cobb, Bertha endows us with a truly divergent set of ten pieces and dons a melancholy mood, perhaps suggestive of beautiful memories from the past. Recalling her childhood, Hope's wispy vocals render a poignant version of the traditional "Balm in Gilead." Husband Elmo's "Moon Over Marrakesh" is wisely included and the self-penned "Gone to See T" serves as an admonition of the greatness of Thelonious Monk, although its oddly displaced melody also tips a nod in the direction of Herbie Nichols.
Hope's style, a bit hard to verbalize, owes much to men like her husband, Monk, and Nichols. There's nothing predictable about it at all. She favors dark harmonies and pointed phrases that avoid the obvious and yet have a resounding brilliance that makes her playing, at times, simply mesmerizing. She can also hit those bebop changes as apparent on "Leslie." This George Braith original based on the changes of "Confirmation" also sports a catchy opening vamp of the "Salt Peanuts" variety. Booker and Cobb get their dibs in too, the former doing a good deal of bowed work throughout and the latter contributing a lucent display on "Prayer For Sun Ra."
A deceptively simple line built off of a major sixth, the closing "Nothin' But Love" succinctly brings to a close this extraordinary piano trio set that shimmers with Hope's love of music and willingness to fully share of her talents with her fellow musicians and audience.