MusicWeb on ELF Trio - "Reflections"

The following review taken from, 11 July 2011

This is a difficult disc to categorise, 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, which formulation is becoming something of a cliché in powerhouse piano-bass-drum jazz trios; see EST etc. Calling yourself ELF also suggests a bout of the Hobbits, or something, which I'm sure is not the intention.

The repertoire takes in traditional material, Lloyd Webber, a Nyman song, three compositions by Eales – including an Elf Dance, somewhat inevitably, I suppose – 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. By coincidence I was watching a "making of" retrospective of the original work the week before I listened to this 26 minute outing for piano, horn and flute, so the themes were already lodged. It would have been nice, though not essential, for each separately tracked cut to have been identified in the booklet. 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.

The folk arrangements include a rather spare piano introduction to When the Boat Comes In over which the flute pirouettes and the horn mulls. It ends pessimistically, segueing into Brigg Fair where the counterpoint with Scarborough Fair is adeptly realised. Molly on the Shore brings out the fife or penny-whistler manqué in Findon, whose flute playing evokes these instruments whilst Lee plays the straight man throughout, harmonically speaking. 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