Jazz Music Examiner
Carol Banks Weber
October 6th, 2010
Why the Brazilian goddess of Bossa Nova, Eliane Elias, isn’t more well-known and as widely embraced as, say, U.S. sensation Diana Krall, is a mystery to most serious jazz musicians. Many in attendance at Elias’ September 28-29 Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley shows in Seattle would probably say that Elias makes Krall look like an American Idol reject.
Harsh, but definitely true, as anyone with ears can attest to. Elias acquired her affinity for Bossa Novas and composing at a very young age. What were youdoing at seven, playing hopscotch and digging for gold? Elias was advancing way beyond her years on piano, soon to master – as a composer and musician – a wide variety of styles and interpretations, from classical and jazz to Brazilian music. By 15, the Sao Paulo, Brazil-born Elias was up front as a highly regarded instructor of piano and improv at a highly sought-after school of music. And at 17, Elias met up and collaborated with Brazilian singer/composer Toquinho and poet Vinicius de Moraes. Through de Moraes, Elias also had the privilege of meeting and learning from the great songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim (“Girl From Ipanema”), a man who greatly shaped the direction and popularity of Bosso Nova style jazz.
It wasn’t long before Elias’ natural gift for the language of love, smooth, delicious phrasing, and flair for endowing songbooks with bodacious chic captivated the world. She joined the much-revered jazz-fusion group, Steps Ahead, in New York, circa 1982, appeared as the first female instrumental artist to grace the DownBeat Magazine cover, hit it big in Japan with several top recordings, and made waves in the U.S. on Billboardand Radio Charts, not to mention all those Grammy nominations—solo and in famous duos.
Despite her fame and her abilities (on the piano, on the mic, in the studios), Elias ran into the old boys’ network in her rise to the top. The male-dominated jazz world treated her as the wifeof a jazz man and deferred to her then-husband, trumpet player Randy Brecker, during rehearsals in the 1980s. “I had to work three times harder than any man [in order] to be looked at. I had to sit down and play and do more than the guys can do because if I did just as well as they did, I would be out,” she said in a past Associated Press interview.
Eventually, Elias’ work spoke louder than the rampant chauvinism in the industry, she found some players who were actually about the music over the chest-pounding egomania, and the men were coming around, all of them—even hardened critics; they couldn’t help but marvel at the depth and sensuality of her playing, composing and singing. Quite often, she will leave those hardened, cynical jazz men breathless with her performances, walking away as if they’d just had a religious experience. They had.
“Eliane, much more than me, is truly an artist. She plays like nobody else and her compositions are like no one else’s. It’s due to the many influences this country and Brazil have had on her,” praised Brecker in a 1990 DownBeat interview.
Currently, Eliane Elias and her smokin’ band (drummer Rafael Mendes Barata, bassist and Elias’ husband Marc Johnson, and guitarist Rubens De La Corte) are in the midst of a world tour that has taken them from New York, Spain, Taiwan and Tokyo, to California and Seattle. They’ll continue on back to New York to do some dates, before hopping a plane overseas. On November 20th, they’re doing the Jazz 51 Festival in Reims, France.
Bay Area Jazz Examiner
September 27th, 2010
Even the climate co-operated Sunday to make it feel like a sultry afternoon in Brazil, as Eliane Elias, one of that country’s most gifted contemporary jazz musicians, brought some tropical sizzle to the historic Filoli estate south of San Francisco.
Elias is one of those rare polymaths, equally gifted as a pianist, vocalist and arranger. But it was her piano chops that were mainly on display as she closed out the 2010 Jazz at Filoli season with a selection of tunes that made the idea of Brazilian vacation seem rather redundant.
The vivacious entertainer happily concentrated on bossa nova tunes, the focus of her latest album, “Bossa Nova Stories,” and a style that perfectly fits her breezy, seductive vocal style and insistently rhythmic piano vamps. Highlights includes a saucy run through “Falsa Baiana,” complete with a helpful explanation of what the song is about, and a playful romp through “A Ra (The Frog.”
While Elias is every inch the lady on stage, appearances can be deceiving, as she’s one piledriver of a piano player. One of the consistent pleasures was watching her hands keeping pace with the joyful beats tapped out by her hyperactive left leg. As a singer, Elias is all cool breeze and seduction, as demonstrated on her light-as-mist rendition of “The Boy from Ipanema.”
Elias also turns out to be quite generous, giving ample space for her well-seasoned backing band to add layers of color and meaning to tunes. Particularly effective was an extended version of “Desafinado” in which Elias and longtime collaborator (and husband) Marc Johnson passed around and developed the melodic core with consummate skill.
The only possible disappointment was that no matter how balmy the weather and appropriate the music, Filoli still won’t let visitors take a dip in the swimming pool.
San Jose Mercury News
March 24 2010
She swooshes onto the stage at SF Yoshi’s like some big blond beautiful dream-come-true. And then, song by song, note by note, seductive phrasing by breathless swoon, Eliane Elias steals your heart away. Last night’s seduction was, at times, almost unbearable, as the Brazilian pianist/chanteuse slowly but surely won over her initially resistant audience. But after about a dozen songs, in both her clipped English that sets you up and sensuous Portuguese that sends you flying, Elias had the Yoshi’s crowd in the palm of her hand – and up on their feet – by the time the evening was done.
Don’t miss her tonight. Luckily for all of us, Yoshi’s has added a second show at 10 p.m. Get there!
Elias’ career spans a marvelous and gaping arch, from her teenaged beginnings in Sao Paulo to the global stature she enjoys nearly three decades later, a sweep as graceful and as breathtaking as the samba tones embedded in her music. With her smart jazz-piano stylings and a power-packed voice that can delight and mesmerize her listeners, Elias brought her Bossa Nova stories to San Francisco Tuesday for the first of a two-night stand at Yoshi’s.
She was by turns extremely hot and awfully cool on Tuesday, leading her talented and two-thirds Brazilian trio through a 90-minute flight to her beloved Brazil, where Elias first picked up her chops with singer/songwriter Toquinho and the legendary poet Vinicius de Moraes before heading for New York in 1981. Tucked tightly into a strapless black mini-dress with black glovelettes, Elias jumped in jammin’ and never stopped. Tossing her head back and forth like a 15-year-old in love with some wonderful guy, she transported the entire room back to the late Fifties, back to Rio de Janeiro where she cut her teeth on Bossa Nova with the very people who had spawned it.
She told stories between songs (about the time she looked up from her piano to see the god himself – Antonio Carlos Jobim – sitting at a table in the club she was playing as a young musician). She took soaring solos on classics like So Danca Samba, leaning into her Steinway with pure abandon and having way too much fun for one woman to have. And then she down-shifted, caressing every ounce of feeling she could from ballads like They Can’t Take That Away From Me. Her versions of Tangerine and the Girl from Ipanema were even more beautiful and moving than the ones I heard her do back at Iridium Jazz Club 15 years ago.
Elias hasn’t aged. She’s somehow gotten younger and more beautiful than ever.
At one point, she asked excitedly: “Have any of you been to Bahia? Well, I’ll take you all there!”
Bay Area Jazz Examiner
March 23 2010
You have to suspect that Eliane Elias doubled back in line a few times when the gods were handing out talent.
Not only is she a double-threat as a performer – a brilliant improviser in the jazz tradition and a gifted classical performer – she has a smooth, glib singing style that makes her lightly Latinized versions of standards and Brazilian gems go down nice and easy. Plus, she’s one of those rare beauties who seem to look better with each advancing year.
Her new album, “Bossa Nova Stories,” focuses on the titular Brazilan style, and it’s an absolute charmer. And, in case you doubt her range, it follows by just a few months a solid tribute to jazz piano legend Bill Evans.
LONDON TIMES, live review September 9 2009
Eliane Elias at Ronnie Scott’s, W1
Next month the Albert Hall will be packed to the rafters as Diana Krall brings her new collection of bossa nova standards to town. She deserves every ounce of the success that has come her way, but it would be nice to think that some of those same fans might visit Soho before Eliane Elias ends her residency. After all, the Brazilian singer-pianist has this music in her bones. Krall’s record is lush and romantic but it is still, inevitably, the work of an outsider looking in. Elias is the genuine article.
Bizarrely, it was only relatively recently that the public first became fully acquainted with her as a vocalist. Until the release of her Sings Jobim album, she was much better known as a prodigious New York-based improviser who could hold her own against the likes of her ex-husband Randy Brecker. As far as I recall, the Jobim disc, classy though it was, did not even attract particularly outstanding reviews. Baffling, quite baffling.
As for her jazz credentials, her opening night at Ronnie Scott’s laid any lingering doubts to rest, Elias teeing up one immaculate solo after another as her current husband, the former Bill Evans sideman Marc Johnson, wove sleek, uncluttered bass lines behind the lyrical guitar of Rubens de la Corte. Rafael Barata’s drumming found a way of generating breathtaking momentum without once slipping into bombast.
Although she opened with a sparkling treatment of Chega de Saudade, it was, for once, not a Jobim tune that made the biggest impression. On the insistent pulse of João Donato’s A Ra (better known over here as The Frog) Elias displayed flawless dynamics. Her treatment of Dorival Caymmi’s Doralice — a song that predates the bossa boom — was full of mischievous humour, while the dissonant coda to Gilberto Gil’s Chiclete com Banana should have been more than enough to satisfy any sceptical jazzers in the house. Not that they should have needed any convincing.