I thought I never needed to hear another version of "The Girl from Ipanema." Ever. Herewith my appreciation to Eliane Elias for proving me wrong.
Bossa nova turns 50 this year, hearkening back to Brazil in 1958, when guitarist Joao Gilberto recorded Jobim and de Moraes' seminal "Chega de Saudade." Characterized by samba-derived rhythms and soft-spoken, non-vibrato vocals, a movement was launched that blended Brazilian sounds with jazz and classical European harmony. There could hardly be a more eloquent spokesperson for her homeland's music than Elias. Bossa nova tunes including "Estate," "Minha Saudade" and "Desafinado" are mixed with standards like "Too Marvelous for Words" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me," and even Stevie Wonder's "Superwoman," with beguiling results.
"Chega de Saudade" is typical. Elias breezes through it with her feather-light voice and piano, sharply attuned to words, melody and rhythmic nuances. With the Gershwin classic, the effect is at once flirtatious and swinging with the take further enriched by guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves' rhythmic counterpoint. Abetted by Toots Thielemans' harmonica on "Superwoman," Elias is a marvel of freedom as she jazzily sifts Wonder's song through a bossa sensibility.
As for "Ipanema" and its heretofore overworked music and lyrics, the quiet smile in her delivery adds a warmth and intimate mood which thoroughly recasts the classic. If her Something for You: Eliane Elias Sings and Plays Bill Evans (Blue Note, 2008) justifiably evoked critical acclaim, her bossa celebration is nothing less than an instant, not-to-be-missed classic turn.
Track Listing: The Girl From Impanema; Chega de Saudade; The More I See You; They Can't Take That Away From Me; Desafinado; Estate (Summer); Day In, Day Out; I'm Not Alone; Too Marvelous For Words; Superwoman; Falsa Baiana; Minha Saudade; A Ra (The Frog); Day by Day.
Personnel: Eliane Elias: vocals and piano; Oscar Castro-Nieves: guitar (1-6, 8-12, 14-15); Ricardo Vogt: guitar (7, 13); Marc Johnson: bass; Paulo Braga: drums and percussion; Toots Thielmans: harmonica (6, 10); Ivan Lins: vocal (8); Orchestra (1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 14).