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Mark Elf: Dream Steppin’

There’s nothing elfish about Mark: he’s a giant of a jazz guitarist. Elf’s playing is straightforward, hard swinging and totally confident-in his chordal voicings or in his single-string excursions. Neither elfish nor selfish, he allows his sidemen ample stretch-out room-why not, with the likes of bassist Neal Miner and drummer Lewis Nash? Elf even guaranteed himself additional, reliable comping by overdubbing some tasteful chords behind some of his solos. Who better to provide the luxury of open space?

Open space neatly describes Elf’s approach to improvisation, from his Wes-side salute to Montgomery on “Oye DNA” to the Joe Pass he takes at “Have You Met Miss Jones?” The latter finds Miner and Nash sitting out while Elf provides a walking bass line and fills his own gaps. The only other track without rhythm section is a lovely rubato interpretation of “America,” coming close in harmonic textures to the lush version by pianist Clare Fischer at least 30 years ago. Elf displays his writing chops on the title tune’s bop line, which is based on “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” and particularly on the cluster-filled “Ballad 2000.”

Curiously, “Pregnant Chad Blues”-a driving, straightahead blues-begat an alternate take. In his notes Elf makes it clear that he would have voted for the alternate. Right on: it’s a brighter tempo, and should have been the final choice, especially since Miner plays 4/4 throughout the entire shorter alternate.

Originally Published