Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
A Minor Scramble
Genres: Jazz, Pop, Broadway & Vocalists
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The power of Mark Elf is upon us!
Kevin W. Celebi | Greencastle, IN | 12/21/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Verve Records reminds me of Blue Note Records in the 50's and 60's - everybody is part of a "family" and frequently appears on each other's albums without necessarily being part of any working bands. In Blue Note, this family was usually Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Joe Henderson, Grant Green, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, etc. With Verve, it's all of the modernists and neo-boppers: Dianne Reeves, Roy Hargrove, Mark Whitfield, and all of the musicians on this date - Mark Elf, Nicholas Payton, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash, and Gregory Hutchinson. Which family is more impressive is up to you - but the Verve family dropped in for a fiesta at Mark's place and the result is this album.
A Minor Scramble features a searching Mark Elf with a biting, virtuous sound on the guitar (using mildly harmonically complex ideas, with lots of tri-tone substitutions), with a more than able rhythm section and excited guests. Be warned that the personnel listing on the cover is not as "all star" as it seems, as these guests only appear on a few tracks. Nevertheless, it's Mark's date, and reasonably so. It's tough to tell if he's a better soloist or a comper: his soloing chops are fast and horizontal, while his chords are rich and quick, while not too lush.
The trio numbers shine on their own right, with a couple of Elf originals and the rest being standards. Elf isn't content to dwell on standards beaten to the ground, instead deciding to revive gorgeous ballads such as "It Was Written in the Stars" (dig the honey flowing out of his amplifier!) and the under-appreciated but still catchy and memorable "A Fine Romance." It's interesting to note that the pieces are mainly love songs (After You've Gone, I Concentrate on You, Come Rain or Come Shine), perhaps fitting to the romantic and moving tone of his guitar.
The only problem is that this isn't a record that will make you drop your jaw or say "damn, that's revolutionary!" Not that I say "damn, that's revolutionary!" that much anyway. There have certainly been stronger guitarists and ones with much more to say musically than Elf, since he's more of an educator than a performer. But just don't expect much. This is perfect listening music and even better reading music, being the perfect mix of mental stimulation and relaxation.
If you're in love with the Verve family, be sure not to stop here. Any album by Payton is obviously a winner, along with the holiday classic "Jazz for Joy" by all of its artists. Mark also released another enjoyable outing with Payton, "Trickynometry," which, as its name might imply, is much more harmonically daring.
The best track is, of course, Come Rain or Come Shine, the musical dialogue between Payton, Elf, and the rhythm section. Payton weaves magical spells with his trumpet, being the foremost token today of beautiful tone and melody. Pretty impressive, since he was only 24 at this record's recording. His solo on Rain/Shine is a perfect example of tempering your virtuosity with sweetness, and I enjoyed transcribing it very much. My trumpet teacher, as always, just went, "whooo, Nick!!!"
When this album comes to a close, you won't be confused or bewildered with his talent, but you will be sure to develop an affinity for the enjoyable music of Mark Elf. Recommended - keep hanging out with the Verve family.