Bassist and composer Marc Johnson may have taken a quarter century to distill the essence of his playing in the last great Bill Evans trio, but Shades of Jade proves it was worth the wait. What is most astonishing about this masterful work is that it took someone I would never have thought of as a Johnson collaborator, pianist Eliane Elias, to make it the summit of Johnson's recorded efforts as a leader. So towering is her involvement, in multiple roles as pianist, composer, and co-producer, that it is incomprehensible that she doesn't share top billing.
As with Johnson, this is the zenith of her recorded ouput; but unlike Johnson, who only has three discs to his name as a leader, Elias has a fairly substantial discography. And as respectful as I've been of her previous recordings, I had thought of her primarily as stuck in a Jobim/Brazil groove in one way or another. That judgment was completely off. Her originals and co-creations with Johnson are sparkling, eclectic, and quite far removed from any Brazilian groove. They comprise the heart of this heart-stopping masterpiece.
That said, the rest of the players are all playing at the top of their form. Saxophonist Joe Lovano adds little coloristic touches to several of these moody, atmospheric tone poems that cement my feeling that he is the Ben Webster of our era. Drummer Joey Baron has never sounded so subtle. Guitarist John Scofield, who is less present throughout than Lovano and Baron, shines on a gospel-tinged "Raise" that adds a little optimistic thrust to an otherwise largely pensive set. Organist Alain Mallet may be even more on the sidelines, but he contributes tastefully.
Johnson sounds like he's reconsidered his sense of musical and spiritual connection to the late Scott LaFaro, into whose shoes he tried to fit with Evans. His lines are less busy than LaFaro's, very much in tune with Elias' delicate impressionistic lyricism. Their affinity is showcased in the mesmerizingly hypnotic title cut, as well as the Debussy-inspired "Snow."
Little needs to be said about the secure place that ECM's best releases occupy in jazz history. I count this as one of the label's dozen most moving recordings.
Ton Sur Ton; Aparaceu; Shades of Jade; In 30 Hours; Blue Nefertiti; Snow; Since You Asked; Raise; All Yours; Don't Ask of Me.
Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone; John Scofield: guitar; Eliane Elias: piano; Marc Johnson: double-bass; Joey Baron: drums; Alain Mallet: organ.
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