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Mark Elf: Swingin'

Jack Bowers By

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This is guitarist Mark Elf’s seventh album, and the first six have been a chart–topping best–sellers. There are two reasons for this: (1) Elf, bless his entrepreneurial heart, does almost everything to ensure the albums’ success short of selling them door–to–door (and he’d probably do that too if he had to); and (2), he’s a wonderful player who richly deserves whatever good fortune has come his way, even if he’s had to wear as many hats as necessary to help guide it there. When it comes to promoting his music Elf isn’t one to leave any stone unturned, even to thanking the press and radio for their support, as he does on the tray card accompanying this album. He is determined to thrive on his own terms, an admirable goal for any Jazz musician — and so far, at least, his time–honored strategy (talent + hard work = success) seems to be working well. “I don’t worry about record sales,” Elf writes in the liner notes to Swingin’. “I record because I love to play this music and hope that others will enjoy my life’s work. So far things have gone quite well . . . without compromising my musical integrity.” And to that we say “bravo.” Elf has no working group as such, so personnel on his albums is never quite the same, a fact of life that seems to inspire more than dishearten him. The guitarist’s playmates on this latest go–round are the talented young drummer Winard Harper, ex –Tonight Show bassist Robert Hurst, and (on “Blowins’ for the Cohens” and “HOV Lane”) up–and–coming pianist Aaron Goldberg whose presence lends the quartet tracks an explicit “George Shearing” flavor. Elf switches gears on the last two selections, giving his splendid chops unescorted workouts on the standards “Manhattan” and “It Might as Well Be Spring.” The trio is in place on the first eight numbers and it is, as the album’s title suggests, Swingin’ all the way with Elf ably steering the undersized craft while Harper and Hurst supply the fuel that keeps the motor humming on all cylinders. Listening to Elf’s invariably clean, melodically precise single–note lines and well–chosen chords, one can’t help thinking that this is how Chet Baker might have sounded if he’d played guitar instead of trumpet. Elf writes charming melodies too; besides “Cohens” and “POV” he contributed “Gambinie’s Bambinies,” “Waltz for Wilke,” “Middle of the Night” and “Indubitably,” which complement well the aforementioned standards plus Jerome Kern’s “I Won’t Dance,” Cole Porter’s “All of You,” Adler and Ross’s “Hey There” and John Coltrane’s “Lazy Bird.” All of them swing, but none with more brio than the two numbers on which Goldberg makes the trio a foursome. Perhaps the best news of all for Elf is that, after laboring so tenaciously to help promote his earlier albums, he can step back, take a few deep breaths and unwind; this one should sell itself.

Contact:Jen Bay Records, P.O. Box 184, East Rockaway, NY 11518. Web site, www.jenbayjazz.com; e–mail jenbayjazz@earthlink.net or jenbayjazz@hotmail.com


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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