Eliane Elias: San Francisco, CA, September 16. 2011


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Eliane Elias
San Francisco, CA
September 16, 2011

Sometimes you can never anticipate a peak experience. Oh, sure there can be plenty of expectation and great intentions but when it comes, you're blown away and gone. This is what happened at Yoshi's, San Francisco, where Eliane Elias came as advertised, and then much, much more. Elias is beautiful, mature, innocent and vivacious with thick natural blond hair, and she's one helluva a composer and pianist. She came out in her sparkling black miniskirt, with black forearm gloves—with no hands—and proceeded to take us on a musical/spiritual journey to Brazil.
Her rhythm section was extraordinary—with partner Marc Johnson on acoustic bass and Rafael Berrata on percussion. Young acoustic guitarist Romero Lubambo also did a few songs with the trio. Simultaneously powerful and supple, Elias played with great joy and fervor, her energy matched by her group. Hunched over her piano, she blasted off staccato chords and in the process joyously polished her piano like a stone as she had at it. This was especially true on the opening number of the night, "Rosa Morena."
Johnson's playing was, at times, Eddie Gomez—quick and fearless, but always with an emotional intention that was eventually realized and not just for the love of speed or showing off. It is no exaggeration to suggest that Johnson is in the same league as Gomez; the bassist's dedication to the music of pianist Bill Evans, after taking over from Gomez in the late '70s, was apparent, and he loved to really thump out those bossa nova rhythms. In fact, besides the very respectful connection to Brazilian jazz, the whole group clearly is in homage mode to Evans.

Berrata played percussion horizontally (all his drums and cymbals in front of or to the side of him at waist level), creating so many rhythms with a sideways flash of the wrist that his solos were things of absolute wonder—powerful yet ethereal. He stayed on top of his drums and the sound rose up from his legs and torso like a sacred fire.

Elias was a child prodigy, growing up in São Paulo, and the maternal side of her family was quite musical. Her father brought Bill Evans albums home from business trips to Europe and the USA. As a child, she remembers dancing around her house listening to his music.

Her current CD, Light My Fire (Concord, 2011), is very good, but not a patch on seeing her and her group live. When she did a different keyboard-partial version of "Light My Fire," without the feed-back guitar of the CD, there was enough wood in the room to start a bonfire. Her ability to play rhythm with her left hand and solo melodies with her right was simply astonishing on her take of alto saxophonist Paul Desmond's "Take Five."

But it wasn't just her technical skill; it was her range and emotional intelligence that was remarkable. Then there was her voice. No frenetic screaming, just this lovely Astrud Gilberto mid-range voice that was conversational, sensuously Brazilian, and so effective.

Even so, it was more than that on a night like that at Yoshis. They did two sets, and got a standing ovation from a cosmopolitan crowd of jazz aficionados.

Elias may well be the finest example of Brazilian jazz musicality ever heard or seen grace the musical stage. Her humility and maturity were so refreshing when contrasted with the greatness of her music, and this was one of the more uplifting aspects of her music: it is not entertainment, it's pure art. It is also obvious that some huge talents completely believe in her and that she will just keep getting better and better.

But don't make any assumptions about tomorrow. See and hear her now while she is arguably the finest creator of melodic/rhythmic jazz on the scene today. You may just have an unexpected peak experience and be blown away, too.

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