• Image of Elmo Hope Ensemble - Sounds from Rikers Island

On August 19, 1963 a group of musicians now called the Elmo Hope Ensemble cut an album entitled “Sounds from Rikers Island.” The premise of the band is that they are all veterans of the prison on Rikers; a few of their careers were stunted by doing time. Elmo Hope saw this as and a opportunity to show the talent and beauty in these people and took to himself to gather the group and record at Riker’s Island. I cannot speak for Elmo’s intentions, if it was a response to the stigma given to people incarcerated in Rikers, to show the beauty that Rikers holds literally hostage, or if it was an attempt to find positivity in a place so negative. Maybe none of that, or maybe all; what I can say is it that a beauty is found on this record far beyond what one paragraph could ever tell. There is no words to describe how it feels to get lost in Philly Joe Jone’s drumming paired with Elmo’s soft yet leading a piano style to only be lifted up to a higher place by the incredible super group of a horn section. Words can’t explain how Earl Coleman’s warm voice can bring passion to a soul like it does on ‘It shouldn’t Happen to a Dream.’ These are feelings best shared in a listen. The record features Hope on piano, Lawrence Jackson on trumpet, Freddie Douglas on saxophones, John Gilmore (of Sun Ra Arkestra) on tenor, Ronnie Boykins on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. Earl Coleman and Marcelle Daniels also contribute vocals on a couple of tracks. An overwhelmingly beautiful record.