Elmo Hope Ensemble / Elmo Hope

Sounds from Rikers Island

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Kudos to Spain's Fresh Sound label for digging this one out of its undeserved obscurity. This 1963 session assembled by composer Sid Frey, pianist and composer Elmo Hope, and vibist Walt Dickerson (who doesn't appear on the record) is a blowing date centered around the notion of drug addiction and hopelessness for the addict/slave musician who ends up in places like Rikers Island. As a cultural and social critique, it fails other than in its liner notes. As a musical document, it is an overwhelming success. Hope surrounds himself with musicians whose reputations are now legendary: Philly Joe Jones, John Gilmore, Ronnie Boykins, Lawrence Jackson, and Freddie Douglas. Hope and Frey composed six of the set's nine selections, ranging from the breezy hard bop of "Ode for Joe," which allowed Jones the ability to drive the band from outside the arrangement, to the lushly romantic "Monique" and the waltz-as-turnstile blues of "Kevin." "Trippin'" is a blues that slips through harmonic changes quickly and seamlessly with startling stop-and-start cadences. The high points of the session are "A Night in Tunisia," a stretch-out for everyone, and the amazing rendition of "Groovin' High" that closes the album, featuring Marcelle Daniels on scatted vocals. Veteran Earl Coleman also appears as a singer on the Ellington tune "It Shouldn't Happen to a Dream," but even in these two tracks, the level of musical empathy and improvisational reciprocity is inspiring. This is an obscure date but it shouldn't be, as it features some of Hope and Gilmore's finest playing, and shows Jones in rare, lighthearted form.

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