Gradischnig/Fishwick/Raible/Antoniou/Home – Mo Is On: The Music of Elmo Hope Vol 2
(Trio Records TR604. CD review by Leonard Weinreich)
Jazz is haunted by tragic ghosts: giants like Bix, Christian, Blanton, Bird and Brownie who departed the bandstand early. Here’s another who had a lousy relationship with luck: Elmo Hope, friend of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. He never made 45 and, while he might survived a bullet wound, he was hit by a heroin habit that put paid to his Cabaret Card (convicted addicts were banned from playing in New York clubs) and his livelihood.
Even though he appeared on Harold Land’s classic album The Fox, his long absence from the New York scene wrecked his career. And had it not been for an heroic multi-national group determined to resurrect his art and reputation, a significant pianist and prolific composer might have disappeared from history.
German pianist Claus Raible, Austrian tenor saxophonist Herwig Gradischnig, British trumpeter Steve Fishwick and drummer Matt Home, and Swiss-based Greek bassist Giorgos Antoniou are attempting to rescue Hope from ill-deserved oblivion by performing his works at top European jazz festivals (including a rousing set at London’s Bopfest in 2018). By the time they assembled in Master Chord’s studio, the music coursed through their veins. No Bb blues sort of guy, Hope’s music confronts soloists with elaborate hurdles to navigate. But this group, so familiar with the seven Hope compositions and two Hope arrangements, are fully on song.
Thanks to Ronan Phelan and Andrew Cleyndert, the resulting album, magnificently recorded in London last year, is packed with atmosphere, respect and excitement. The opener, So Nice, is an exuberant bop melody played in joyful unison, Fishwick able to blow any idea that comes to mind, in any register. Gradischnig reveals gruff epigrams in a smoky tone. On piano, Raible blends the fleetness of Powell with Monkian dissonance. Bassist Giorgos Antoniou and dummer Matt Home supply both powerful drive and virtuoso solos.
Hot Sauce emerges fast in tumbling form and ends in dramatically crashing dissonances. The light-hearted Chips persuades Fishwick to stretch his chops athletically and Herwig Gradischnig (thanks, Pres) to ‘tell a story’. Nice piano. Abdullah, nodding towards a Middle Eastern tinge, sounds closer to 52nd Street Casbah chic. With Mirror-Mind Rose, the fancy-free mood is over. Written by Hope in the grip of understandable despair, it’s performed with startling expression. McBrowne’s Galaxy, also arranged by Hope, concentrates attention on Matt Home’s immaculate technique and enviable sense of invention. One Down, the final choice, is Hope’s medium tempo melody from Harold Land’s The Fox, an album that also features the rarely recorded trumpet of the elusive and legendary Dupree Bolton.
The two remaining tracks are Elmo Hope’s original arrangements of Bronislaw Kaper’s Invitation and Kern & Mercer’s Dearly Beloved, both recast into tricky, triplet-rich bebop territory for a Lenny McBrowne album. More than half-a-century later, they still sound fresh.