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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: he Girl From Ipanema; 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 (Who Loves You?); Too Marvellous For Words; Superwoman; Falsa Baiana; Minha Saudade; A Ra (The Frog); Day By Day.
Personnel: Eliane Elias: vocals and piano; Oscar Castro Neves: guitar; Marc Johnson: bass; Paulo Braga: drums and percussion; Toots Thielemans: harmonica (7, 13); Ivan Lins: vocal (8); Orchestra arranged and conducted by Rob Mathes (1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 14).
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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