January Movies May Be Grim but the Music This Month Is All Joy
by Rex Reed
January 13, 2009
Eliane Elias. Remember the name, because you’re going to be hearing it a lot. This Sao Paulo–born New York resident, who is keeping lush Brazilian jazz alive in a rainbow of colors in this 50th-year anniversary of bossa nova, just got the new music season off to a dazzling start. The standing ovations in last week’s gig at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola coincided with the release of her new Blue Note CD, Bossa Nova Stories. Anticipate rapture.
Why Ms. Elias is not a much bigger star outside the enclave of jazz insiders eludes me. She looks like Gloria Steinem in her Playboy bunny days, plays like the late, great Bill Evans and sings in warm, dreamy tones like Julie London cross-pollinated with Chet Baker. I hadn’t found a combination of this many thrills in such a long time that I had given up trying. With sharp virtuosity and keen musicality, she melds samba rhythms on “Tangerine” like hip movements in a tango, then negotiates throbbing shifts in time and tempo on classics by Jobim, Joao Gilberto and Ivan Lins that make them sound brand new. On Caetano Veloso’s “A Ra” (“The Frog”), her left hand swings in fractured fifths while her right hand pounds out the melody. Or is it the other way around? I was too busy watching her give herself to the music like a woman in love to tell. When the shoes come off, the piano pedals haven’t got a chance. Pouncing gingerly on all the right notes, she makes Gershwin sound like Jobim. Shifting keys and swinging in chords, she turns Geraldo Pereira’s “Falsa Baiana” into a riff of Miami, Copacabana Beach and boogie woogie. The Bill Evans influence is evident on the gorgeous “Estate”; after she migrated to Manhattan, she married Evans’ bass player, the dexterous Marc Johnson, who accompanied her on the new CD and in her Jazz at Lincoln Center gig (along with guitarist Ricardo Vogt and volcanic drummer Rafael Barata). Watching their faces as she ran her agile fingers across the keys in a multitude of tempos was as invigorating as listening to the varied musical brush strokes she paints. Every expression is opinionated and radiates personality. Her voice is so tender and supple that you don’t just hear her sing the lyrics; you see her feel them. Even her earlobes seem to smile.
Eliane Elias may be celebrating her native Brazil, but there’s none of the cultural isolation you sometimes get from listening to songs in Portuguese. She can be lusty and discreet, openly hip and lazily reflective. She can make you sway and reduce you to tears, often simultaneously. She is not, God forbid, a lounge act. There is nothing mechanical about what she does, or how she affects an audience. But she achieves a haunting intimacy that is never ponderous. And she can swing. Grab her last CD, a moody tribute to Bill Evans, with rhythm and strings. And rush to find her new one, Bossa Nova Stories, aptly named because her songs build narratives, like short stories. Bossa nova is alive and well, thank you very much. When I was in Rio, I couldn’t find it anywhere except the Carmen Miranda museum. But right here in little old New York, in the custody of Eliane Elias, it fairly glitters.
By Christopher Loudon
Since the 50th birthday of the bossa nova was officially celebrated in 2008, some might think Eliane Elias has arrived, gift in hand, a little late to the party. In fact, Bossa Nova Stories, recorded in New York (with the orchestra, added to half of the 14 tracks, recorded at London’s Abbey Road Studios), was released last year overseas and is only now landing on American shores. Among contemporary Brazilian jazz artists, it is hard to imagine a better choice than Elias to lead such a celebratory album.
Chronologically, she is two years younger than the bossa nova and two years older than Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes’ iconic “The Girl From Ipanema,” the song that ignited the worldwide bossa-nova craze. Musically, with her honeyed voice, dense and luxurious as the finest Aubusson carpet, her equally sumptuous appeal as a pianist and her skill for subtle, cozy arrangements, Elias seems the living, breathing extension of the oxymoronic plush minimalism that defines bossa nova.
Working alongside four other noble ambassadors—drummer and percussionist Paulo Braga, bassist Marc Johnson and, sharing guitar duty, Ricardo Vogt and the singular Oscar Castro-Neves—she navigates all of bossa nova’s touchstones. There is “Chega de Saudade,” the Jobim-de Moraes masterpiece that, as interpreted by João Gilberto in 1958, signaled the birth of bossa nova from the more muscular samba. There is, of course, “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Desafinado,” and Gilberto and João Donato’s frisky “Minha Saudade.” Ivan Lins is lovingly acknowledged with a silken reading of his “I’m Not Alone” (with Lins himself twining voices with Elias). And, reminding us that wide swatches of the Great American Songbook have, over the years, been refitted as bossa novas, there are shimmering renditions of “The More I See You” and “Day by Day” (both re-popularized in the bossa style by slight-voiced Mexican-American Chris Montez in the mid-’60s), plus the Gershwins’ “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and a double dip into the Johnny Mercer songbook for “Day In, Day Out” and “Too Marvelous for Words.”
Even Stevie Wonder is honored, with a breezy “Superwoman” that finds Wonder’s original harmonica passages replicated by Toots Thielemans. It is all exceptionally beautiful, and executed with the utmost intelligence and grace. But there is one track that rises, rather like Rio’s august Corcovado, above the rest. Coming aptly at the album’s center, it is a hushed, dusky rendering of “Estate” (again featuring Thielemans) that shimmers with a warm mysteriousness that suggests the majestic Cristo bathed in purple twilight.
Bossa Nova Stories
Eliane Elias | Blue Note Records (2008)
February 2009 issue
by Peter Hum
Canwest News Service
March 31 2009
Diana Krall, Quiet Nights (Verve)
Rating: three stars out of five
Eliane Elias, Bossa Nova Stories (Blue Note)
Rating: three-and-a-half stars
No, you’re not seeing — or hearing — double.
But you could be forgiven for blurring together the latest musical (and visual) offerings from Diana Krall and Eliane Elias. The new CDs from the two 40-something singer/pianists are strikingly similar.
Quiet Nights from Krall, available Tuesday, and the recently released Bossa Nova Stories from Elias both take classic bossa novas as their point of departure. Both offer several A.C. Jobim tunes plus bossa-fied versions of jazz standards and pop by Burt Bacharach or Stevie Wonder. The Girl From Ipanema and Too Marvelous For Words appear on both discs. Both wrap the star’s breathy, sensual singing in plush orchestral swaddling and feature piano playing that stresses good taste over adventurousness.
The covers of the two discs both flaunt attractive blondes with soft shoulders, shimmering lips and tight black dresses, proving that when jazz can lean on the sex-sells marketing of pop music, it does.
The key difference: Krall’s dozen songs tend to be slower and her phrasing is more laid-back, while Elias’s 14 songs include more bouncier grooves, more assertive piano playing, and English lyrics sung with the beguiling twang of a musician born and raised in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
Krall, 44, has overtly played up the sexiness of her new CD, stating: “I feel this album’s very womanly — like you’re lying next to your lover in bed whispering this in their ear.” She and her longtime producer Tommy LiPuma also root the disc in Krall’s recent travels to Brazil.
But it’s just as true that the CD revisits the formula of Krall’s 2001 disc The Look of Love, which just happened to sell more than three million copies, and it eschews the more independent bent of 2004’s The Girl in the Other Room, which featured Krall singing her own compositions and covering Tom Waits and Bonnie Raitt.
Quiet Nights is extremely easy on the ears — maybe too easy. Its foremost charms are the timbre of Krall’s voice and her phrasing, cloaked in Claus Ogerman’s impeccably crafted orchestrations. But the disc’s well-calculated emotional and tempo ranges are narrow. The disc’s opener, Where or When, its title track, Too Marvelous For Words and I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face are all about dreamy, slow, sweet nothings.
The CD’s most trifling track is So Nice, which verges on camp as Krall doubles her singing of the melody with a single-note piano line. (In general, Krall’s piano work is pared down, consisting more of blues licks than compelling lines.)
The disc’s most passionate track is You’re My Thrill, which finds Krall invested in a song of “chills . . . and strange desire.” It makes the rest of Quiet Nights seem, well, too quiet.
Elias, 49, isn’t the household name that Krall is, but jazz fans know her as an impressive, powerful pianist who branched into singing later in her career. She and Krall are certainly on the same track now.
However, there’s more variety and personality to Elias’ CD. She isn’t seeking to remake the commercial formula either, but Bossa Nova Stories relies a little less on orchestral whoosh, and lets Elias sing and play with more sauciness, digging in more at the piano and phrasing with more forward motion.
The best tunes fall into several categories. Elias cuts loose at the piano on Too Marvelous for Words and Day By Day. Estate (Summer) and Stevie Wonder’s Superwoman are standouts thanks to Toots Thielemans’ beguiling harmonica. Day in, Day Out, Chega de Saudade, and especially A Ra (The Frog), sung in Portuguese, have hip-shaking grooves that are nowhere to be found on Krall’s CD.
Both discs will work fine as they were primarily designed, as soundtracks chock-full of professionally rendered, well-known songs, well-suited for dinner parties or more intimate gatherings. But the Elias CD is more than pretty music in a pretty package, with music that satisfies in the foreground as well as the background.
© Copyright The Vancouver Sun