Eliane Elias: Something [Historic] for You at Dizzy's
Her music, on the other hand, is anything but typical: it's graceful and commanding, swinging and infinitely tender, and elegant and explosive, all at the same time. Elias has integrated her Brazilian roots, jazz sensibilities and classical chops so thoroughly that it's hard to pry them apartassuming anyone would want to, given how well they work together. At 17, she was in Brazil, playing with Jobim and touring with his songwriting partner, Vinicius de Moraes; at 22, she was in New York, performing as a member of "Steps Ahead."
So far, her three-decade career has produced about two dozen albums, most of them on the Blue Note label. They range from her dazzling, Grammy-nominated collaboration with Herbie Hancock, Solos and Duets (Blue Note, 1995), to the brilliant On the Classical Side (EMI, 1993), which features masterful interpretations of Bach, Villa-Lobos, Chopin, and Ravel that prove she could easily have had a concertizing career. Elias has also fronted a big band playing her own compositions, on Eliane Elias, Bob Brookmeyer and the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra Play the Music of Eliane Elias (Stunt Records, 1997). Her expressive singing complements her playing, and adds yet another layer to her versatility.
Dizzy's Club Coca Cola
It should be noted that, aside from that organic Brazilian/jazz mix, which only two other pianists I know of can pull off successfully (Helio Alves and Susan Pereira), Elias' style contains some reliable elements that distinguish her from everyone else. First of all, her signature modulations and chord alterations are immediately identifiable. Then there's her fondness for changing keys unexpectedly in the middle of a chorusnot just at the bridge or last verse, as most musicians will do. This adds lift and interest to a performance, and can totally renew a tired song like "Girl from Ipanema," on Brazilian Classics (Blue Note, 2003). But as effective as they are, such transitions can be very subtlefor example, on "You and the Night and the Music," the opener to Something for You, you have to listen carefully to catch all three of them.
Elias is also known for a deceptively simple, straightforward approach which keeps each track short and sweet. As she says in the liners, "Rather than feeling I have to do five or ten choruses to say something, I prefer songs whose stories I can tell in a shorter amount of time." That's why there's usually such a bounty of tunes on an Eliane Elias CD.
There are sixteen on Something For You, and this set featured five of them. The trio opened with "Five," the angular, early Evans composition based on the changes to "I Got Rhythm"; they swung it considerably harder live than they recorded it. As it turned out, virtually everything was taken mid-tempo or faster, including the title track and "My Foolish Heart," which are both ballads on the CD. Apparently drummer Baron had more opportunity to shine onstage than he did in the studio, and he took full advantage of it, keeping the energy happy and high. The joyful set was filled out with three non-CD songs: "Chega de Saudade" (Elias kicked off her shoes for this one, and they stayed off); a surprisingly funk-ified version of "Just Friends"; and the closer, a re-imagining of "Desafinado" that started off as straight-ahead jazz, moved through a free arco interlude, and then charged to the finish like a mad Carnavale parade.
With only 140 seats, Dizzy's is the most intimate room at Jazz at Lincoln Center. It's also an unusually beautiful space, with floor-to-ceiling glass that reveals the sparkling city below. But last Wednesday evening, the most memorable light came from a full white moon that moved slowly across the top of the window as the set progressed. It added a heavenly witness to the music, as if Evans were watching his own tribute. I have no doubt that he approved.