Y'all know of Jimmy Ponder? He passed last year, but I loved that cat's guitar work, and Mark Elf reminds me of him a hell of a lot. Jimmy had obviously been listening to a lot of Martino, Burrell, Montgomery, and the usual passel of killer chopsmeisters, and so has Elf. The combination of swing, West Coast Cool, be-bop, and trad in the work of both is what places them in a category well apart from 95% of six-stringers. Not as restrained as Szabo, Byrd, and others, not as pyrotechnic as DiMeola and Abercrombie, but extremely lyrical while impassioned but in a classical sense, florid but never cluttered even while hi-speedin'. The root of it is shown here in It was Beautiful, wherein Elf shows us how to make the most of not very many notes yet sacrificing nothing in imagery and emotion.
As far as I can determine, the axewrangler's put out eight discs before this one, so it's not like he's unknown or non-appreciated, but time's have gotten tough and, eight years 'twixt his last and this one, it's thanks to the graces of Kickstarter that we finally hear from him again…with Hurricane Sandy having run a bit of interference meanwhile, flooding his home in 2012, putting a significant crimp in plans. The wait, though, was worth it. Not only Ponder but it was George Benson who really got me into this kinda gig, and Elf's been in the music trade for 45 years, so he knows where all this began and reflects it well, especially with David Hazeltine putting in call and response solos on piano. Dave's got it goin' on but so do Lewis Nash on drums and Peter Washington on bass, the former supplying the ground level rhythmatics, the latter walking his bass between Washington and the front cats; he's the subtlest of the foursome.
That backup, appearing for the third time in a row, was retained for good reason: they have Elf's back every second of the entire foray. I've a particular liking for Michellie's Mambo, a cut written for the guitarist's youngest sister's passing but not elegaic, instead a celebration of life and happy memories, Brazilian in nature, full of great solos and chord choices with several melodic attenuations leading right back into the swing of things. It's follower, Low Blow, written by Mark for the baritone guitar, is funky as all get out, throaty but boppin', a turning of the page from high register to lower, bringing Washington more into the foreground, Hazeltine dancing all around him.
Yep, this is a disc where I feel like donning a beret, slipping on some cheaters, growing a Mephistophelian goatee, snapping my fingers, and muttering "Cool, man, cool! I dig where you're at, mad cat!" while downing lattes with sidecars of bourbon. The nice thing about living through this period of history is that we get to hear a very long stretch of modern musics coming and going, and Mark Elf has heard and seen it all, preserving the best of what came before so that those working their way up through things—Generations X, Y, Z, and LMNOP—will know there are more ways than ever but that they all have roots.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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