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Mark Elf: New York Cats

Elf is a straightahead jazz guitarist of no small skill, and without apology. At a time when jazz guitar is trying to define who it is and where it wants to go, and what it wants to escape from, Elf happily burns in the old school tradition. His tone is clean and fat, his technique suitably gymnastic, and his harmonic smarts intact. In the trio context of the honestly-titled New York Cats recording, alongside bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Dennis Mackeral, Elf has room to move, and rises to the occasion nicely. He kicks off with the skittering phaseology of Clifford Brown’s “Brownie Speaks,” giving rise to his eighth-note run-on exuberance over a bubbling swing pulse, and his own overdubbed rhythm comping. The album includes a nicely balanced roster of tunes, including the uptempo take on Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On-” more thick note parades in the service of improvisational heat. “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” features chordal elaborations in the intro, and an extended solo using pinging harmonics. He stretches out, as well, on the themes of Jobim’s “No More Blues” and “Stomping at the Savoy,” with a few well-placed dissonances that enrich instead of detract from the easy-does-it flow of the original tune. He reveals his Joe Pass influence on a couple of nimbly navigated solo guitar pieces to end an album that goes straight down the middle, but with style and chops to spare.

Originally Published