Mark Elf, a guitarist gifted with far greater chops and improvisational abilities than many of his better-known peers, has achieved his modest commercial success the old-fashioned way: issuing his imaginatively arranged music on his own label, effectively spreading the word, touring, then watching his smartly programmed efforts catch fire at jazz radio.
Similar enthusiasm should accompany Elf's sixth album as a leader, a trio session absent the borrowed big-label names heard on three previous self-produced recordings. Then again,
who needs star power when this much joy is generated by the six-stringer in collaboration with bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Dennis Mackrel?
The trio, sounding like the working unit they often are, splits its attention between originals and standards. Elf carefully negotiates his way through the tricky head and quick tempo of "Brownie Speaks," then slows down for a sweet take on "Blues in the Night," followed by the vigorous melody and fleet fretwork of "From This Moment On." A lovely solo cadenza sets up "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," and Jobim's bossa "No More Blues" shifts from relaxed to frantic and back again. The guitarist creates artful tension on "Stomping at the Savoy" by staggering the theme the second time through, and he drops the rhythm section for a shimmering "Lady Be Good." Elf's own compositions - particularly, the melancholy ballad "Heartfelt" and bouncy swinger "Walker's Walk" - are similarly appealing.
Elf's vision of '90s bebop, although strictly in-the-tradition, doesn't allow room for somber sermonizing about jazz family values. No frills, no big concept. He just plays it like he means it, inadvertently speaking volumes about the continuing vitality and viability of the genre. Neat trick.
--- Philip Booth, JAZZIZ Magazine Copyright © 2000, Milor Entertainment, Inc.