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July/August 2006

Mark Elf
Liftoff
Jen Bay Records

Guitarist Mark Elf’s newest inspiration is John Coltrane’s “Countdown” chord progression, a tricky harmonic series superimposed over the common ii-V-I chord progression. Elf employs it (or a variation thereof) on two blistering takes of his title tune, two takes of his “Deception Blues” and a single take the Frank Loesser standard “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.” His mastery is musical as well as technically adept.

Another new entry on this album is his use of the baritone (aka six-string bass) guitar on the first take of “Deception Blues” and on a second blues called “How Low Can You Go.” Whether on this or his normal instrument, he unleashes long, well-developed solo lines, almost like a horn player, without chording. Although on a lovely “Thanks for the Memory,” the album’s sole ballad, he delivers the melody in a warm, tapestrylike style, his solo is hill-and-dale linear.

Pianist David Hazeltine, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash accompany the guitarist, with percussionist Daniel Sadownick added on “Chuy’s Challenge,” another Elf original. Hazeltine take several tasteful, cleanly executed solos on the album, and Washington trades phrases with the baritone guitar on “How Low Can You Go.” Overall, the rhythm section is a fine match for Elf’s jet-propelled and more leisurely flights.

Originally published in July/August 2006
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