Of the collections of Elmo Hope's '50s recordings, Trio and Quintet is the one to get. It includes his prime Blue Note sessions and features a stellar cast of hard bop musicians including Art Blakey, Frank Foster, Philly Joe Jones, and Harold Land. The majority of the tunes are Hope originals which, in their angular introspection, bear the influence of both Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Things begin with ten mostly hard bop swingers from a trio date in 1953. Prominently featured is Hope's Powell like, single line attack. Solos stay brisk and straightforward on uptempo numbers like "Hot Sauce," but turn a bit mercurial on slower pieces like "Happy Hour." Standout tracks include Hope's "Mo Is On" with its "off to the races" opening statement and "Carvin' the Rock," which falls somewhere between Powell's "Parisian Thoroughfare" and "So Sorry Please." Percy Heath and Philly Joe Jones provide sympathetic support throughout. The Quintet tracks start with an East Coast session featuring Foster and Blakey. The opening number is the convoluted, yet hard swinging original "Crazy"; it causes some problems for trumpeter Freeman Lee, but finds Foster in command with a vigorous solo statement.
Is there any doubt that Robert Craft is the reigning Stravinsky conductor of our time? His years of friendship with, apprenticeship to and quasi-adoption by Stravinsky certainly give him bona fides for this, but it is his impeccable musicianship that tells here. These performances have appeared before on CD Jeu de cartes and Danses concertantes on Koch, and the Scènes de Ballet, Variations, and Capriccio on MusicMasters all recorded in the 1990s. Naxos is in the process of re-releasing on their own label all of Craft's Stravinsky recordings of that period (plus a few new ones done specifically for them) and the series is an undiluted triumph.
Ian Matthews left Fairport Convention in 1969, and while the U.K.'s greatest folk-rock band was beginning to reinvent itself in a more traditional and very British direction, Matthews began digging deeper into the American influences that had marked his old band's first era. Later That Same Year, the second album from Ian's new group Matthews Southern Comfort (it was released in late 1970, a mere six months after their debut, hence the title), is a beautiful set of songs that splits the difference between West Coast folk-rock and early country-rock, with Gordon Huntley's pedal steel and Roger Coulam's lending an air of sunny sadness that dovetails beautifully with Matthews' silky tenor. Matthews wrote three of the songs on Later That Same Year, and they rank with the album's finest moments, especially the ethereal harmonies of "And Me" and the graceful simplicity of "My Lady," but Matthews also borrows some excellent material from American writers, including a cover of Neil Young's "Tell Me Why" that remains faithful while creating a languid mood of its own.
During the final part of their career, the Stanley Brothers did most of their recording for the King label, laying down almost 200 sides for the company between 1958 and 1965. All of those tracks are available in box set form should you want them, but the ordinary fan will be satisfied with more selective samplers such as this one, which has a couple dozen cuts originally released in 1961-1966. The Stanley Brothers were a consistent enough act that the songs picked for best-of comps are pretty much up to the taste of the compiler, but this does a fine job both in the quality and the variety of the material presented. In addition to plenty of originals, there are also interpretations of songs by A.P. Carter, Alton Delmore, and traditional items.