Dizzy's Club Coca Cola
New York, New York
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
The other night at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, high above the whirling traffic of Columbus Circle, there was a full moon and a full house as the Eliane Elias Trio played in support of their Bill Evans tribute CD, Something for You
(Blue Note, 2008).
The innovations of pianist William John Evans have influenced whole generations of players, and his place in the jazz pantheon is secure. But it's a safe bet that he's never had a tribute quite like this one.
For one thing, there's how it began. Bassist Marc Johnson was in the last Evans trio from 1978 to 1980, about the same time that teenage prodigy Eliane Elias was listening to her parents' jazz records in Sao Paulo, transcribing Evans solos and playing them note-for-note. And so the two musicians, who are now married to each other, share an intimate knowledge of Evans' music; their deep, mutual reverence for him has inspired both of their careers, as well as every track on this CD.
Then there's that precious legacy tape. It seems that ten days before his death, Evans gave Johnson a cassette of song ideas and fragments he wanted to work on. Nearly three decades later, Johnson rediscovered this treasure and shared it with Elias. She transcribed and finished two of the songs; both "Evanesque" and "Something for You" appear on the new album, while the lyrics she wrote for the latter became the title and heart of the tribute: Find the one who brought me this love
Find the one who taught me romance
Showed the sunrise
Brought the moonlight
Touch of those hands
They led me to this way of living
Here is something for you
Where or when it finds you
Recorded in four days, Something for You
also contains some of Evans' most famous originals"Waltz for Debby" and his own favorite, "Blue in Green"as well as seven standards he liked to play. One of them, "My Foolish Heart," is especially powerful, not just because it was a signature song and the title of his 1973 WestWind album, but because Johnson is playing Scott LaFaro's bass. LaFaro was a rising young star, part of the Evans trio from 1959 until he died in a car crash in 1961, at the age of 25. His bass has never been recorded since thenat least, not until now.
Finally, there's the stunning participation of Evans himself, as the CD's final track draws directly from that historic cassette. It begins with Evans introducing the idea that would become "Something for You": "It's like a show kinda thing," he says, then launches into a brief demonstration with great exuberance and little exclamations of delight. Elias picks it up from there in a seamless, touching segue, singing a wistful reprise that reminds us who this recording is really for: "Here is something for you, where or when it finds you..." This emotionally charged moment ends the CD, and even extends into the silence beyond it.
But the mood at Dizzy's, at least for the set I witnessed, was somewhat less reflective, with virtually every tune taken at a brisk and swinging tempo. Three days into a head cold, Elias didn't sing at all; this was very disappointing, since her soft, dreamy voice provides the most charming moments on Something for You
. My favorite is her open-hearted take on "Minha," a passionate love song and one of only two Brazilian tunes that Evans ever recorded (for trivia buffs, the other was "Saudade Do Brasil," aka "Chora Coracao," one of Jobim's more obscure compositions). The show departed from the CD in other ways too, most of them reflecting the inherent differences between live and canned performances.
For instance, there's no way for the listener to experience Elias and drummer Joey Baron grinning at each other across the bandstand, or to appreciate the normally solemn Johnson suddenly dancing to Baron's infectious hand-drumming. Both were delightful sights that greatly enhanced the music (support live jazz!). And speaking of visuals... my boyfriend, new to Elias' music, was pleasantly surprised by the degree of virtuosity she displayed that night.
"She looked like a babe," he explained, a style that doesn't usually signal the presence of serious musicianship. A beautiful woman with long blond hair she likes to toss, she walked out in four-inch heels, black fishnet stockings, and a tight black dress that offered generous portions of breast and leg.
This is typical of Elias, whose CD covers could often double as ads for Wonderbra. In fact, her outfits can be so provocative that many assume it's a deliberate marketing strategy. But it's not, as she has pointed outit's simply that she's Brazilian. As anyone who's ever been to Rio can testify, hers is a typical look in that very sensuous, tropical culture.
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. Photo Credits
Photo of Eliane Elias: Jos L. Knaepen
Photo of Dizzy's Club Coca Cola: Dr. Judith Schlesinger