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 Norm, 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 out it'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.