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Eliane Elias: Sweet Vocals Join Splendid Piano

R.J. DeLuke By

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The singing adds something to my show. The piano is there, but (singing) is another thing to bring to the audience.
Take a virtuoso pianist, add deep musical and rhythmic sensibilities, toss in a generous amount of adventurous spirit and you have Eliane Elias, who has been wowing U.S. audiences and musicians since 1981. She had been knocking out musicians and fans in her native Brazil for many years before that.

Now add to the mix soft, supple vocals delivered through a rich and sensuous voice. What you have now is the Elias who has decided to broaden her appeal and expand the possible musical paintings she can create by becoming a singer. It's not a new Eliane Elias. It's a new attitude. And her new CD, Dreamer , with a generous helping of sensual vocals, as well as orchestral support, is climbing up the charts.

According to Bluebird Jazz, which put out its second Elias recording this year, Dreamer was in the top 10 of jazz radio charts, climbed to be the number 3 jazz album in France— as well as reaching the top 20 on French pop charts—and won a Gold Disc Award in Japan.

Elias has used her voice before, sparingly on some of her many fine Blue Note albums, and extensively on her Eliane Elias Sings Jobim project in 1998. But the latter was a special project, sung mostly in Portuguese. Her voice has always been appealing. But until recently, she had always considered it as an augmentation to her piano playing and musicianship. Dreamer is her first recording almost entirely in English, comprised of some American classic songs and a couple originals. It is exquisitely delivered. The process of producing it changed this student of jazz.

"On that one ( ...Sings Jobim ), the pianist was singing. Here, I am a singer with piano accompaniment and sometimes a solo. But it's more a singer's record first. The voice is in a different place. I really took it in a different way," she says. The new CD "was made to use the voice more. It was very interesting' Every one of the lyrics had to touch me in a different way. It's a singer's album."

How much does she love it?

"It's here to stay. Whatever I do in the future, it will always have singing. And that surprised me' I'm so comfortable now. It's really fun. In communicating to the audience, it moves it up that extra notch. It's exciting," she says, adding: "There's some special connection you have with your audience when you bring in words. It's quite interesting and I love it."

The album contains songs like "That's All," "Baubles, Bangles and Beads," and "A House is Not a Home." "Call Me" is a haunting hymn of comfort and companionship and "Doralice," one of the few songs in Portuguese, is a delightful romp in which she pays tribute to saxophonist Stan Getz, who recorded this song on the Getz/Gilberto album with Joao Gilberto, by playing a direct transcription of the sax solo on the first chorus.

"If you look at my body of work, some albums focus on the virtuoso aspect of piano. Some (like 2002's Kissed by Nature ) on writing and compositions," says Elias. " Dreamer has a lot of piano, but it's not the main focus. It goes around the singing. Different projects are different ideas and I like that."

Elias has had many influences in her piano playing: Art Tatum, Errol Garner, Nat Cole, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and more. She's also influenced by music from the likes of Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. But for singers, especially American songs, she admits she hasn't listened to that many over the years. Her style is unlike any of the Americans. Even though many will compare her to Astrud Gilberto, it really isn't the same except for a Brazilian accent and a breathy delivery.

"I didn't listen to a lot of the (jazz) singers. Of course I heard Brazilian singers growing up, like Joao Gilberto. He's an influence. But I didn't listen to a lot of singers. I've been doing that more recently. The one I really love is Frank Sinatra. I think he is it."

For those that dig Elias as one of the very best of today's jazz pianists: Fear not. This extraordinary musician doesn't intend to give up the instrument she has been playing since about the age of 7.

"Piano is my first love. I am always a pianist first," she says. "The singing adds something to my show. The piano is there, but (singing) is another thing to bring to the audience." And the American art form supercedes even the harmonically and melodically rich music of her homeland. "Jazz is my first love. Always." In concert, it's clear she is still a top-notch pianist, showing monster bebop chops and a penchant for lush Evans-like harmonies. She plays with passion and a flair for the instrument's dynamics, knowing when to soften up and when to burn.


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