Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hope in Hughes’ House

Bertha Hope is a beloved figure on the New York jazz scene, beyond her status as a statesperson for the music. One of her many worthy endeavors is her work to promote awareness of the music of Elmo Hope, her late husband. Having recorded duo piano together on the classic Riverside release Hope-Full, she is imminently qualified to lead the Elmolenium Orchestra, a combo dedicated to interpreting his compositions, featuring Charles Davis on tenor and soprano, Roni Ben-Hur on guitar, and Leroy Williams on drums. Last night, the Hughes House proved a perfect venue for their music.

The historic home of Langston Hughes has recently been converted into a jazz performance space that is well worth a trip to 127th Street. Probably no poet championed jazz to the extent Hughes did, so each performance fittingly begins with a reading of one his poems, as an invocation to his sympathetic spirit. The vintage Brownstone provides an intimate listening environment (although the screen-saver light show playing on the flat screen behind the musicians is an unnecessary and anachronistic distraction).

The Hughes House also boasts a Fazioli piano, which got a good workout from Ms. Hope, who perhaps has not gotten the credit she deserves as a pianist in her own right, outside of the immediate jazz community. She led the band through Hope classics like “Low Tide”, the more exotic sounding “Stars Over Marakesh,” “Carvin’ the Rock” (co-written with Sonny Rollins), as well as “Eyes So Beautiful As Yours” and “Monique,” with lyrics written and performed by vocalist Amy London. Elmo Hope is one of a handful of musicians, like Herbie Nichols, whose reputations have increased in recent years, despite being under-recognized in their time. In the case of Elmo Hope, this is in large measure due to projects like Elmolenium, as well as the aggressive classic reissue programs of the late 1990’s. Elmolenium is the perfect sort of programming for Hughes House, as it allowed for the celebration of two icons: Hope and Hughes.