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Eliane Elias: Something for Bill (Evans)

By Published: January 29, 2008

The band played that afternoon, a scorching hot summer day, at the waterside stage, one of two performance areas away from the main stage. The location didn't matter. The set was sparkling with songs written by and associated with Evans—like the new CD. Fans jammed the area and the trio, with Billy Hart on drums this time, flew through the music. Elias was in the moment, the music as hot as the weather at times, and as soft as the occasional breeze off the bay at others. She beamed as the audience roared its pleasure, and when the three stood to take a bow, broad smiles crossed all their faces. A labor in the heat, but worth it. She also unveiled "Here's Something For You," the haunting ballad that was sketched out on the cassette Johnson had rediscovered. It was warm and touching, and Elias, who can put mystery and romance into that type of song, was breathtaking.

"That was fun," she says, chuckling on the next to last day of 2007 from Brazil. "It was the first time. It was fresh. Newport was August. I recorded on July 1, 2, 3 and 4, so it was fresh. And we had Billy. He's such a beautiful drummer. It was really fun."

The timing was such that the department for which she had recorded two albums for SONY/BMG, Dreamer and Around the City, was gone. Rather than make a popish album, Elias wanted to go forward with the Evans project, and it was decided Blue Note would be contacted.

"It was a great emotion when we got together again—the record company, the executives, Bruce Lundvall. I started there, my very first recording. It was like the child coming back home," she says with obvious satisfaction. "They loved the idea. So we decided to do this first, which will be a first celebration of going back to Blue Note and doing something that goes back to my roots, but something really special. It's really not about marketing. It's not about concept. This is a real heartfelt, super special project for us."

The disk flies from the start, with a fast version of "You and the Night and the Music" that has the energy of a runaway horse, but Elias holds the reins and the trip is a delight. She is always in sync with Johnson, and Barron is a great foil for the bassist, both with the Elias trio and on numerous other projects, like those of John Abercrombie, Lee Konitz and pianist Enrico Pieranunzi. "Blue and Green" gets a different treatment. Not haunting, but spirited. Maybe even a tad funky, yet elegant—a thoughtful rendition with a refreshing change. "I Love My Wife" shows her sweet way with harmonies and melodies. On the delectable version of "My Foolish Heart," Johnson uses a bass that belonged to Scott LaFaro, Evans' other favorite bassist who died in an automobile accident at the age of 25—an event that took an emotional toll on the pianist.

Eliane Elias

The disc also has vocals, something Elias has become increasingly known for. "But Beautiful" harkens back to The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album of the 1970s. The title song, which Elias put a lyric to, is captivating. "Here's Something for You" is sung tenderly and with deep feeling. The piano support touches the right places. And the very last cut revisits the song with the intro taken from Evans' cassette as he plays the melody, in obvious glee, and then it melts into a brief vocal by Elias over her own piano as the song ends. It's great piano trio music and great for fans of Evans.

There was a wealth of material to choose from, she says, and the decisions weren't easy. She chose to give Evans' career some perspective, drawing from a spectrum of his entire career "from the very beginning to the very end. The very end was the newly discovered tune. The very beginning was a tune like â??Five' when he was more influenced by bebop—almost Monkish, in a certain way, that tune sounds—and bringing songs that were his compositions, as well as standards that became known to many, including to me, by his interpretations."

To get 17 songs on the CD, solo space was cut down, but creativity was not.

"I don't feel like I didn't improvise enough. I did what I had to do creating the music, but keeping the tunes a little bit shorter so that I could bring in more of the songs that I love. I love all of them, and I think people enjoy hearing them again, people that like Bill's work," says Elias.

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