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May 2008

Mark Elliott
The Transition
Riverside MidiWorks

I recently bought a cheap, beat-up second car with a cassette player. It gave me a chance to dust off a few contemporary jazz recordings from the ’80s I hadn’t heard in a while. Listening, I kept thinking about real players recording in a studio. No e-mailed tracks, no GarageBand software. The same day, keyboardist Mark Elliott’s debut CD arrived in the mail. Elliott uses zero live instruments on his debut CD, just electronic modules, and I don’t savvy the difference between the ’80s stuff and The Transition, so there you go. Welcome to the digital age, jazz cats.

I wanted this CD to suck so a damning pronouncement could be made on synths, buttons, software and the simulation of live instruments. Forget about it. The Transition is urban-flavored smooth-jazz with a dash of hip-hop, new age and, of course, sound designs and special effects. For the sax, he uses a BC3 breath controller and blows into it while playing notes on the keyboard connected to it. The expression, vibrato, growls, scream and other articulations are triggered as he plays the keyboard. “I know that typically, this genre of music calls for acoustic instruments,” he says. “That would be fine if I had them, but since I don’t, I have to go by the principle of use what you’ve got.”

What he’s got is a fine smooth-jazz CD, one of the best I’ve heard in a while. I guess it’s not what got you there, but what the finished product is. A nationwide tour, well, that’s something else, but I have no doubt he’d pull it off.

Originally published in May 2008
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