Bertha Hope: Nothin’ But Love

Nothin’ but Love, pianist Bertha Hope’s first domestic recording as a leader, is not without its flaws. Hope, a veteran musician in her mid-60s, could be more agile pianistically speaking. Her attacks sometimes lack the precision expected in this era of technical perfection and she occasionally hesitates or falters slightly mid-phrase. As a result, the music can take on a lumbering quality instead of achieving musical flow. The other members of her trio, bassist Walter Booker and drummer Jimmy Cobb, share culpability for these and the most serious defect: the rhythmic pulse sags now and again.

That said, Nothin’ but Love has equal points in its favor, the first being interesting and unusual repertory. “Stars Over Marrakesh,” a haunting tune written by her husband Elmo (who died in 1967), weaves chromatically with an exotic lyricism. Cedar Walton’s “Ojos de Rojo” saunters by handsomely. Hope, too, shows herself to be a gifted composer with three originals: the angular “Book’s Bok”; “Prayer for Sun Ra,” a tender ballad named for her son; and “Gone to See T,” a tune styled effectively after Thelonious Monk’s work.

As she explains in the liner notes, Hope has clearly lived with-and likely inside of-this music. She may not possess the virtuosity of other players, however, her musicianship displays a straightforward, honest character that renders it heartfelt and appealing.