Mark Elf: Swingin'

AAJ Staff By

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As a one-man production and marketing organization, it's a wonder that Mark Elf finds the time to write music, practice, perform and record.

But he does. And he does it very well indeed.

Releasing a CD a year on his own Jen Bay Records label, Elf graces listeners once again, this time with an appropriately titled recording called Swinging'. "Swing" he can, and "swing" he does. Playing with clearly defined bop lines on "Blowin' For The Cohen's" as the inspiration arises or with balladic serenity on his own composition "Middle Of The Night," Elf implies a swing in his placement of the notes, even when the swing isn't obviously stated.

Elf has varied the compositions of his groups through a succession of CD's ever since the introduction of The Mark Elf Trio on Chilean Alerce Records in 1993 (oddly, with liner notes written in Spanish for a CD released in the North American market). On Swingin', Elf goes for the configuration offering the greatest opportunity for showcasing his talent: the guitar trio.

Starting with "I Won't Dance," Elf combines a relaxed strolling tempo with a fluid ease that, as always, emphasizes the melody over every other element. Continuing to mix standards with original compositions, Elf reaches his audience through the subtle alteration of familiar tunes. For example, "Hey There" asserts the title as an exclamation, as if calling the listener's attention to the tune. Then Elf glides into several choruses of blossoming improvisational development, always referring back to the unsung lyrics of the tune.

Bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Winard Harper unify and elevate the rhythms of the tunes, their tightness on Elf's Latin-influenced"Indubitably" a large part of the track's ability to claim the listener's interest. Pianist Aaron Goldberg, is gaining attention with his recordings on J Curve Records, joins Elf on "Blowins' For The Cohen's" and "HOV Lane," Elf's and Goldberg's unison lines tightly wound before they unfold into solos steeped in the jazz tradition.

Repeatedly, Elf's albums have risen to the top, or near the top, of the Gavin Jazz Charts, due in large part to the airplay of various jazz radio announcers around the country. Appropriately, Elf acknowledges their belief in his music by paying tribute to music programmers Bert Gambini in Buffalo, Aaron Cohen in Houston and Eric Cohen in Syracuse. Thus, Elf refers to another tradition of the early bebop musicians, who named tunes like "An Oscar For Treadwell" after dedicated jazz radio announcers.

The most fascinating tracks on Swingin', though, remain Elf's solo interpretations of "Manhattan" and "It Might As Well Be Spring." Like Jimmy Raney, Elf is a master of self-accompaniment, creating his own walking lines to root his simultaneous improvisation or exchanging quarter-noted melody with modulating chords to create his distinctive gorgeous sound.


Track Listing: I Won't Dance, Indubitably, Lazy Bird, Gambinie's Bambinies, All Of You, Waltz For Wilke, Hey There, Middle Of The Night, Blowins' For the Cohen's, HOV Lane, Manhattan, It Might As Well Be Spring

Personnel: Mark Elf, guitar; Aaron Goldberg, piano; Robert Hurst, bass; Winard Harper, drums

Title: Swingin' | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Jen Bay Records


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