Many musicians, who begin their careers in pro-gressive territories, eventually settle down into tra-ditionalism. The word "settle" implies the end of any creativity, and is unfortunately often accurate. Mark Elf's new album Dream Steppin’
has successful-ly avoided this pitfall, adding an inspired and energetic volume to the straight jazz guitar oeuvre. Elf has come years and miles since his begin-nings in the early 70's with the likes of Heiner Stadler and Grachan Moncur. Yet this progression, that has been happening over Elf's recordings for his own Jen Bay Records, is not tired nostalgia. It is music played with genuine affection and spirit and chock-full of lively Elfin melodies.
Elf is in the somewhat envious position of run-ning his own label and having the opportunity to record often and without constraints. Dream Steppin’, his ninth release since 1993, is recorded with two of Elf's associates from previous recordings, Neal Miner on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums. With the recording clocking in at just under an hour, fans of Tal Farlow, Grant Green and even Pat Martino, will have plenty of strong material to enjoy. Throughout the 13 tracks, Elf and his associates play with an inventiveness so often lacking in straight jazz today.
The title track has an astounding intro theme which Elf and company use to jump off for a strik-ing solo section. "Loved Again", a swinging, medi-um- paced lullaby, features supple single lines by Elf, particularly during the drum breaks. "Oye DNA" recalls Pat Martino's mid 60's work for Prestige. "Rhymin' for Simon" is the burner of the set. The fleet melody instantly insinuates itself into one's ears and the feverish pace of Elf's solos begs for the repeat button on the CD player. On two tracks, "America" and "Have You Met Miss Jones", Elf's marvelous technique is displayed unaccompanied. While even the mention of the term "straight jazz" will instantly turn some people off, Elf's latest offering dispels the notion that the mainstream has no relevance or vitality. Dream Steppin' quite simply is good music by a great musician and should be appreciated by all for whom that is important.
This review first appeared in the May 2002 issue of All About Jazz: New York .