ELIANE ELIAS: ‘Bossa Nova Stories’ (Label: Blue Note)

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ELIANE ELIAS: 'Bossa Nova Stories'

A native of Sao Paulo in Brazil, classically-trained pianist, Eliane Elias, moved north to New York in 1981 and quickly earned renown as a young keyboard player of considerable promise on the local jazz scene there. A stint in the group Steps Ahead (with whom she cut one LP in 1982) followed before Elias cut her first solo album, ‘Illusions,’ for the Denon label in 1986. Two years later, Elias’ career gained greater momentum when she joined forces with Blue Note Records. She won a Grammy nomination for her album, ‘Solos & Duets’ in 1994, featuring keyboard maven, Herbie Hancock, and it was while with Blue Note that Elias also branched out as a vocalist – her 1990 album ‘Eliane Elias Sings Jobim’ revealed that the pianist possessed a delicate, dreamy, sensuous voice reminiscent of fellow Brazilian songbird, Astrud Gilberto. In 2002, after 14 years and nine albums for Blue Note, Elias moved to RCA/Bluebird, where her music became more eclectic and pursued a more overtly commercial path (to the chagrin of some of her jazz devotees) – for example, 2006’s ‘Around The City’ melded jazz with bossa nova, pop, rock and even dance floor electronica. However, earlier this year, Elias rejoined Blue Note, focused on doing a bona fide jazz record and served up ‘Something For You,’ a superb homage to one of her influences, pianist Bill Evans. This new opus, though, is in a different vein completely from that record – it’s a tribute to the bossa nova idiom (which celebrates its 50th birthday this year) and reminiscent of her earlier ‘Eliane Elias Sings Jobim’ album, although the presence of a full orchestra on several of the tracks frames Elias’ vocals with a richer, widescreen, palette. In fact, the orchestration by Rob Mathes – which is lush and luminous – recalls the classy arrangements of Claus Ogerman, who was such a key figure in many of the seminal bossa nova records produced by Creed Taylor for Verve in the early 1960s. Significantly, ‘Bossa Nova Stories’ kicks off with ‘The Girl From Ipanema,’ penned by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius De Moraes, two of bossa novas’s principal architects. It’s no pale imitation of the original, though – one has to remember that Elias is steeped in the opulent melodic and harmonic language of the bossa nova and early on in her career, served her musical apprenticeship in the company of both Jobim and De Moraes. It’s because of this that Elias’ performances here evince a real sense of authenticity. As she notes in the liner notes: “I lived and breathed this music; it’s in my DNA.” Indeed, the melodies, rhythms and harmonies of bossa nova’s exotic musical argot sound as natural to Elias as breathing. As a result, the album has an unforced naturalness to it and offers a beautifully bewitching blend of moods – ranging from the capricious playfulness of ‘A Ra (The Frog)’ and the muted melancholy of ‘Desafinado’ to the wistful pathos of the poignant ‘Day By Day.’ Toots Thielemans adds his plaintive harmonica sound to a couple of tracks, including the lovely ‘Estate (Summer),’ and a languid, after-hours version of Stevie Wonder’s ’70s classic, ‘Superwoman.’ Quite simply, this is a wonderfully seductive record – and one whose sunshine-soaked warmth will help dispel the cold and gloom of approaching winter.
(CW) 4/5