ELF - Reflections
ELF is truly a meeting of like musical minds. Nothing is out of bounds. Everything goes into the mix - classical, folk, jazz, rock, latin, musicals and more. Dave and Andy are indispensable members of the world renowned Michael Nyman Band whilst Geoff is one of Europe’s most inspirational jazz pianists. Aside from being 3 of London’s most in-demand studio musicians they are also international solo artists in their own right, all three having recorded their own critically acclaimed albums.
Apart from original compositions and arrangements from within the group, ELF are fortunate in being able to call upon writers from across the spectrum, from Andrew Lloyd Webber to Michael Nyman. Anyone who knows Geoff, Dave and Andy will tell you that they are larger than life characters and their intense love of music and indeed life in general all help to create the unique sound that is ELF.
“Phantasia, recorded here, provided the catalyst for the formation of ELF. The idea crystallized during a touring period with the Michael Nyman Band, of which Andy and I are both members. From our experiences in the Band we knew that horn and flute worked well together. We hoped the combination would help broaden both our repertoire and our musical challenges. There was no other choice for pianist other than Geoff. We had all known one another for a long time, shared mutual respect and good humour. Together we agreed on a repertoire that encompassed our joint experiences, the reflections on which have given us a new way forward. We hope you enjoy the journey.”
“It’s an unusual combination,” concedes Eales. “The natural reaction is that’s not going to work. But we proved that it can.” The CD Reflections has taken another two years, in which time they have indeed plundered Findon's CD When the Boat Comes In and Lee's Under the influence Eales has also composed new work for the trio, while they also gathered in other arrangements. The resulting repertoire is a complex and undefinable mulch of styles reflecting their mixture of musical backgrounds. “There are so many pigeonholes,” says Dave. “I have a funny feeling we don't fit into any. We’re bringing in aspects of jazz, aspects of classical. It’s a melting pot we pile into. Sometimes the way we play some of the stuff is not strictly kosher.”
Written by Jasper Rees, theartsdesk.com (click link for full review)
This is a difficult disc to characterise, and I expect that staff at the few remaining emporia actually devoted to selling CDs will need to seek guidance: is it classical, crossover, folk, jazz, light, or a cross-pollinator of some, or indeed all, of the above? Perhaps it will help to know that Andy Findon and Dave Lee are both members of Michael Nyman’s band and that Geoff Eales is a highly respected jazz pianist. Together the initials of their surnames spell out the trio ELF.
The repertoire takes in traditional material, Lloyd Webber, a Nyman song, three compositions by Eales, and jazz standards. They’re grouped together amusingly under headings such as ‘Folk in a Boat’ for the traditional material and ‘Doing Bird’ for the trio of avian-related jazz titles. Clearly these are not sour-faced practitioners. The motor of the disc is the long sequence of themes from Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, here called Phantasia. It’s arranged by Geoff Alexander and heard in this trio reduction by Paul Bateman. I enjoyed this ingenious piece of work, from Eales’s tinkling piano introduction [track 9] which is full of suspense; also the commanding playing of Dave Lee and Findon’s blandishments.
I enjoyed Ian Hughes’s Reflections, the title track, very much. It comes from a 1996 TV film, and is a worthy salute to the late composer. Another lovely song is Nyman’s If, followed immediately by that rather funky Elf Dance, albeit one containing a fair share of wistful elements too. Eales’s Song for my Mother was written for his jazz trio and though it explicitly evokes Horace Silver in its title, this combination of instruments re-imagines it in a new and richly textured way. We also hear Chick Corea’s Spain and that bird-related trio of classic jazz themes by Joe Zawinul, George Shearing and Charlie Parker, all genially arranged; Lullaby of Birdland is the best of the bunch. So, whatever genre this disc occupies - and it traverses repertoire and different forms without embarrassment - the proof is in the playing, which is typically outstanding. Sympathetic, receptive listeners will enjoy it – the jazz, the pastoralisms, the show tunes, the traditional songs, the originals, and indeed the whole ethos of un-pigeonholed musicians working hard and enjoying themselves.
Jonathan Woolf, musicweb-international.com