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Eliane Elias at Birdland

Ernest Barteldes By

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Eliane Elias
Birdland
New York, NY
May 31, 2013

On the fourth night of her weeklong residence at Birdland, pianist Eliane Elias opened her set with an original number, its bluesy nature recalling the work of recently deceased pianist Dave Brubeck. The number gave her quartet—bassist Marc Johnson, guitarist Steve Cardenas and drummer Mauricio Zotarelli—plenty of opportunity to stretch out, with quite a few improvised moments.

Elias' quartet continued with "There Will Never Be Another You," following the arrangement from I Thought About You (A Tribute to Chet Baker) (Concord, 2013), its release being celebrated during that week. The tune began with a bossa arrangement but then, after a few bars, converted into a straight-ahead format for the solos. The switch was done seamlessly, and it was enjoyable to hear the music from two completely different perspectives.

The album's title track was played as a drummer-less trio (Elias mentioning that, in his later years, trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker often performed in that format because he reportedly thought a drummer would "have to be better than no drummer at all"). Another trio piece, "This Can't Be Love" featured Johnson's rollicking solo backed solely by Cardenas.

Elias revisited her bossa nova roots with a semi-improvised reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "So Danço Samba," followed by a Brazilian-inspired arrangement of "Just In Time."

One of the set's most memorable moments came at the end, with a very personal rendition of Jobim's "Desafinado," beginning with a classic bossa form but then switching to a straight-ahead groove. The band then stopped as Johnson began his solo—playing mostly a cappella, he moved to a funk tempo and soloed based on his instrument's E string. Cardenas then traded solos with Elias in a psychedelic-like form, Zotarelli then leading the band into a carnival samba groove that had the audience clapping along and almost dancing in its seats. It was a breathtaking extended version of this tune that closed the show on a high note.

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