Mark Elf

Mark ElfSwingin’
Mark Elf
(Jen Bay Jazz – 2001)
by John Barrett

If you listen to jazz radio, you’ve heard Mark Elf; his last five albums have made #1 in the Gavin Report. But you haven’t heard him like this: his tone can be tart and tightly wound, but here it’s relaxed … and quite lyrical. “I Won’t Dance” plays the theme high, then repeats it an octave lower – all while Robert Hurst pounds the big bass. On the bridge, Mark quotes Coltrane’s “Like Sonny”; his solos fly, in the mode of Tal Farlow. “Indubitably” flows like soft rain: Winard Harper clicks a samba, while the strings march along. Harper gets the solo, and he thunders the toms – Elf twinkles softly behind him, in a charming moment.

A long wiggling note is the foundation for “Gambini’s Bambinies”, a tune that skips like a child. (Hurst skips too, with a nice loping rhythm.) They call this a “horizontal” solo: close variations on the theme, simple but effective. “Waltz for Wilke” takes a mood like “Gambini’s”, in a different meter; Mark tiptoes along, in a rippling effort. (Winard helps with nice cymbals.) And “Middle of the Night” is suitably calm, expectedly sweet. May your nights be as beautiful as this.

The second half takes mark away from his typical trio format. “Blowins’ for the Cohen’s” adds piano to the group: Aaron Goldberg has a light touch, matching Mark note for note. Elf’s best solo is here, and Robert wields a bow for his best. “HOV Lane” is Farlow with muscle: everyone moves with anxiety, and all very fast. The final tunes feature Elf by himself: the style is Joe Pass, full of intertwined notes. “Might As Well Be Spring” is all delicacy, the tune less important than the feel. Such is true for the album at large: everything is sweet, and warm … and highly swinging.