Eliane Elias, the Brazilian-born pianist and composer, plays with astonishing technique and assuredness, full of passion yet instilled with a delicate sense of romance and a palpable spirit of exploration. A musical child prodigy raised in the land of Baden Powell, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, Joao Gilberto and so many more, the spirit of her native land can often be heard in her work. It's an indelible part of her. But it's not her first love.
At the top of her musical list of preferences, she gleefully confesses, is American jazz.
"It's my love. My true love. It really is. If you ask me, what would I be the happiest with, if I only had to choose one? I have no other choice, only one. I would be playing jazz"
And she does so exceptionally, influenced as much by American jazz pianists Art Tatum, Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock as anything else. She loves the improvisational nature, the in-the-moment aspect of the art form that all the great ones expressed in their playing. Eliane's playing can be as hot as a firecracker or as beautiful and alluring as her physical presence.
Since coming to the United States in 1981, Eliane Elias is known for her superb piano playing in the jazz mainstream – evidenced by her kick-ass work with Marc Johnson and Jack DeJohnette on her Everything I Love
CD – as well as for her superlative handling of Brazilian music, illustrated onFantasia and her two Jobim-themed recordings, ... Plays Jobim
and ... Sings Jobim
With her latest recording, however, her creative spark has turned her in a slightly different direction. After years with the Blue Note label, her first CD for RCA/Bluebird Jazz, Kissed by Nature
, is softer, more melodic, more accessible. Yet it retains her sweet piano work and her attractive melodies as a composer.
"I'm not opposed to anything," she said. "Some of the artists I like best, they are constantly renewing themselves, doing different things." And so it is with Kissed By Nature
"When I was writing the music, I happened to be most of the time out in the country, out in East Hampton (NY). When I have time off, that's where I work. Being inspired by nature, by a calmer environment, and ultimately wanting to make a record that people will listen to when they want to relax," she explained. "I myself sometimes want to find CDs to put on that are something beautiful, something that I like, but brings me to a different state of mind. And that was the intention behind this music."
Elias is also a singer, with a soft sensuous voice that relies on understatement and melodic inventiveness. Those effects are also put to good use on the new disc.
"Most of the tunes I wrote when I knew I was going to make an album. But there's a way of writing when it's really manipulation, but you don't force the way you go. I try to allow that. Of course with the idea that this record is not going to be a tour de force, it's not going to be a record with pianistic virtuosity. It's going to be about tunes of mine, about music, about composition, all this. With that in mind, I let the music flow, whatever was happening."
Two of the songs are even repeated at the end, but with a modern bent and DJ remixes.
"As I was writing for the record, I got together with David Weyner, the person who signed me for RCA, and he expressed an interest in having me listen to some of the remixes of things that were done mostly in the pop world, actually," said the pianist. "That was an inspiration too. I said 'Oh, great. I'd like to write a few tunes and have somebody maybe do something with them.' Of course, preserving what I've done."
"I liked them. I really did. In fact, when I play live my drummer [Satoshi Takeishi], who also dabbles in the DJ thing for some tunes, we do some of the remixes. Of course, they are longer and there is room for more improvisation, but we're doing them and it's a lot of fun."
"For people that have followed my body of work, they see that I have different sides that are all true and strong. And they are all genuine. Probably what I love doing the most is just playing the piano and playing jazz and all that, which I decide to do for most of the recordings. But there's a way that the composer, the writer, does not essentially have to be into a jazz thing. Another side of me comes out. Different influences. A little bit of R&B, and different things that are me. And this particular record was not about, 'Look, this is the way I can play the piano.'"
It's a satisfying album that can be just the ticket for those relaxing times. "A Volta" is an attractive melody with vocal overdubs; not complex, but silky and soft. "Apareceu" is a soft, arresting ballad and "Manhattan" a swaying and bouncy Latin-tinged picture of the city. Elias' piano is not intense on numbers like "Where Did You Go," but there are lush harmonies and intricate phrasings – stories told in a different way, but told well.