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New Stories: Hope Is in the Air

This Elmo Hope revival project exudes class. It includes cameo appearances by seven guest musicians (most notably producer/trumpeter Don Sickler and alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli), but it is defined by New Stories: pianist Marc Seales, bassist Doug Miller and drummer John Bishop, who have constituted the best piano trio in Seattle, Wash., for 17 years.

Elmo Hope composed quirky, beautiful, unforgettable music, now all but lost in the shadows of history. Several of his own versions of the songs on Hope Is in the Air are available on Trio and Quintet (Blue Note)-which, like New Stories’ CD, was engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, 50 years apart. Hope the “piston-fingered” pianist (Ira Gitler’s apt description) is able to make his own music, with its uneven phrase lengths and odd chord movements, sound consonant. New Stories goes further, subtly rounding Hope’s material into overt elegance, while remaining true to its spirit. Hope’s own “Stars Over Marrakech” is tight and declarative. Marc Seales lets it float and hover, aloft on the updraft created by John Bishop’s restless mallets, its mystery unexplained. “Carving the Rock” is a classically convoluted Hope line, transformed into luminous fluidity by Bobby Porcelli.

Elmo Hope’s life was troubled and short, yet he left us songs like “Dee-Dah”-pure, ascending affirmations of the soul. (New Stories makes “Dee-Dah” pop.) Hope Is in the Air is a valuable rediscovery of a unique American composer.

Originally Published