Guitarist Mark Elf has been recording since 1986, and on Liftoff he continues to amaze. All but two of his dozen sessions have been on his own Jen Bay label. Athough Elf usually appears in a guitar/bass/drums format, he also includes piano on a few of these recordings.
Such is the case on Liftoff, where he joins pianist David Hazeltine, drummer Peter Washington, bassist Lewis Nash, and (on one track) percussionist Daniel Sadownick. Over the years, I've heard most of Elf's albums and admired his energy, technique and devotion to bop guitar.
Elf is one of ...read more
John Coltrane's Countdown, like Hemingway's A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, is a brief, emotional and enduring classic. Guitarist Mark Elf makes this tune the heart of Liftoff. Elf, who played last month at Flushing Town Hall with bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Quincy Davis, was an exuberant performer who scatted along with his solos on up-tempo tunes, played fluidly on ballads, and was humorous and engaging throughout. The challenging title cut is based on Countdown, but it also contains discernible elements of its source, Miles Davis' Tune Up. Elf dives in at top speed, sprinting through the chord ...read more
Guitarist Mark Elf enjoys the rush of re-interpreting music by masters such as John Coltrane. He also enjoys creating fiery originals that allow him to work out on the instrument the way Trane did. It doesn't matter that one played saxophone and other plays guitar, since both artists share a deep appreciation for the creation of animated magic.
With Liftoff, Elf takes his guitar for a balanced drive that includes both up-tempo romps and sensual ballads. He loves to fill each piece with showers of staccato notes that fly like bullets, however, even the ballads. Elf's technique allows ...read more
Several musicians have found their muse in John Coltrane, and Mark Elf joins the group with Liftoff. The guitarist takes the chord changes to Coltrane's Countdown to create the title piece. Word play notwithstanding, Elf can turn a tune to his advantage. His notes are crisp, even as they zip along at feverish pace, and that is where his strength lies: there is no clutter, just a story well told. The closing alternate version, taken at a slower pace, is as good in terms of technique.
David Hazeltine, Lewis Nash and Peter Washington were on Elf's previous recording, ...read more
In light of the serious medical issues that guitarist Mark Elf has overcome recently--he had a kidney disorder and is recovering from prostate cancer--any new CD he puts out is a triumph for him and his many fans. Glad To Be Back , a crisp balance of standards and originals, is Elf's musical affirmation of life. His quartet, featuring the stellar rhythm section of pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash, performed at Smoke last month. The opener, Elfin's Pace," is based on the changes of Giant Steps," with Elf soloing along the same lines ...read more
"Sometimes," guitarist Mark Elf writes in the liner notes to Glad to Be Back, it takes something really serious to make one appreciate life and what the [importance] of good health means." In Elf's case, that something" was two major surgeries, the first for a kidney disorder in December '02, the second for prostate cancer in June '03.
Elf truly is glad to be back," and his enthusiasm and gratitude shine through on every note on this delightful album, several of whose tunes are dedicated to physicians and friends whose knowledge and counsel helped him weather the storm and return ...read more
New York City guitarist Mark Elf has been missing in action for the past year. Mr. Elf spent the majority of 2003 and 2004 recovering from not one but two life-threatening health conditions. Now, convalesced and back on his feet, he offers us an expression of gratitude in Glad to be Back. Always in the company of great musicians, Mr. Elf recruits the stellar rhythm section of pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Lewis Nash to join him on his new recording. Their presence elevates this recording above the typically excellent Mark Elf offerings to a sublime status. ...read more
Backed by an old school who’s who which includes Ray Drummond, Jimmy Heath, Ben Riley and Hank Jones, guitarist Mark Elf presents a simple album rich in its simplicity.
The title opener is a mellow cascade into a be-boppy bay where the water's fine and everyone's in the pool. Though Elf does take a solo, it is playful and pleasant and breaks the piece nicely. And it is also not the only spotlight segment of the song. In fact, pretty much everybody gets an individual shot at the listener. Though Elf is featured a bit more on the mellow "This ...read more
On this guitar effort," jazz strummer Mark Elf picks and frets his way to a nearly unbreakable dozen of standards and original tributes. Tipping his trademark cap to the men and stations which make jazz radio and great, Elf also honors the songwriters who have given it musical sustenance as well. On at KLON" is as bright and paced as a typical day in LA. The Cookie Maker" cuts around on a tasty musical sugar high, occasionally becoming almost too crisp to savor. Taking a tip from Johnny Hartman, Elf takes a not too opulent dip into Strayhorn’s Lush Life" ...read more
As is his way, guitarist Mark Elf uses his 1998 trio album New York Cats as an opportunity to pick from among the best in music and musicians to create an album of feline felicity. Known for corralling members of major label stables on past recordings, Elf works his magic this time with the help of regular live bandmates bassist Jay Leonhart (Mel Torme, Rosemary Clooney) and drummer Dennis Mackrel (Slide Hampton, Joe Williams, Count Basie). Together, the trio combine original compositions and signature standards which sometimes blend into each other (e.g., No More Blues" rings of I Concentrate On ...read more
Though comfortably laden with familiar pages from the Great American Songbook, A Minor Scramble also shines in its musical variety. In the middle of the well-handled "After You’ve Gone," guitarist Mark Elf leads a sudden but surprisingly fluid transition from a finger-flying set-up to a mellow, swinging conclusion. Adding to the spice of the album is the inclusion of such pieces as the salsad Samba "Tico Tico" and a trio of original tracks. The tempos are also well mixed (or should I say "scrambled"?), with the paced pulse of "Tico" being followed by the lazy (but not lazily played) lullaby ...read more
Evidence of Mark Elf's high level of musical craftsmanship is encapsulated in his latest offering Dream Steppin'. In a pared down, clean, uncluttered upbeat-sounding trio setting, Elf combines his compositional talents along with his interpretations of standards by Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, and Richard Rogers to produce 12 individual musical selections. One segment of an alternate take of is also offered in the 59 minutes 39 seconds of music on the CD.
Elf demonstrates great guitar chops as he deftly maneuvers through melodic heads and graceful improvised lines. Of particular note is his ...read more
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 ...read more
Mark Elf has adopted a minimalist approach on Dream Steppin’, placing his expressive guitar front and center in a trio setting with old pros Neal Miner on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. Unlike Elf’s previous eight albums on his Jen Bay label, there are no other front–liners or guest artists, and to be honest, none is needed. Elf is an eloquent, resourceful player in the Barney Kessel / Herb Ellis / Joe Pass tradition who has a pleasing sound, swings at every tempo and is perfectly able to carry an album on his fretboard, even one that is comprised ...read more
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