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Marc Johnson / Eliane Elias: Swept Away

Dan McClenaghan By

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Swept Away is certainly a collaborative effort—co-led by Eliane Elias and bassist Marc Johnson—but it seems more like the pianist's set. The Sao Paolo-born pianist, Elias, penned five of the disc's eleven tunes, and co-wrote two more with her musical/life partner, Johnson. The duo, in league with drummer Joey Baron and, on five tunes, saxophonist Joe Lovano, has produced the most sumptuous music imaginable, beginning with the Elias-penned title tune—a floating trio effort, a sensual haiku to unadorned beauty.

Elias' debt to iconic pianist Bill Evans is obvious in the refined delicacy of her touch. The connection is there: she offered up a stunning tribute to Evans with her 2008 Blue Note Release, Something for You: Eliane Elias Sings and Plays Bill Evans; Johnson was Evans' bassist in the late 1970s. Evans—perhaps the most influential jazz pianist of the last fifty years—had an approach that was very harmonically sophisticated and highly cerebral. Elias can play from the head, but more often her sound seems to come from the heart.

Lovano comes in on the second tune, "It's Time," another Elias original. At this point, very few saxophonists can be considered his equal. Lovano's rich-toned expressiveness, the elasticity of his lines and his malleable and cliché-free poetics in his play with the melody—matched in the saxophone world only by altoist Lee Konitz—injects a blue hue into Elias' late night sparkle.

If Elias is playing from the heart on the disc's first two tunes, the music bubbles up from the gut on the danceable, hard-driving "One Thousand and One Nights," a trio tune where the pianist wears her immense technical proficiency and joy of creation on her sleeve, with Baron adding some pop while Johnson's bass pushes the sound forward. Johnson's "When the Sun Comes Up" wanders, via Lovano's saxophone, into a lazy dawn, picking up momentum as the day brightens and Elias adds a cool flow of angular notes to the bounce of the Johnson/Baron rhythm section.

Elias' "B is for Butterfly," could serve as a soundtrack to the rising of the monarchs at the beginning of their migration—bright, lighter than air, awe-inspiring in its natural beauty.

Swept Away is a magical release, eclipsing even the magnificent Shades of Jade (ECM Records, 2005), which employed the same cast (along with guitarist John Scofield). It's got everything: Lovano's jazz Zen; Elias' romantic enchantment; and Johnson and Baron's astute and spirited interplay, which binds it all together for one of those rare, near-perfect recordings by a group of veteran artists playing (and writing) at their peak.

Track Listing: Swept Away; It's Time; One Thousand and One Nights; When the Sun Comes Up; B is for Butterfly; Midnight Blue; Moments; Sirens of Titan; Foujita; Inside Her Old Music Box; Shenandoah.

Personnel: Eliane Elias: piano; Marc Johnson: double bass; Joey Baron: drum; Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone.

Title: Swept Away | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: ECM Records

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