Eliane Elias Celebrates the Samba on Her New #1 Album Dance of Time
Eliane Elias is on a recorded roll. Following the success of her Grammy-winning 2015 release Made in Brazil, the famed pianist, composer and vocalist is back with her new album Dance of Time, just released on the Concord Jazz label. A salute to both the 100th anniversary of the Brazilian samba, as well as Elias’ own multifaceted musical gifts, the album debuted at Number One on the iTunes Jazz Album Chart upon its release on March 24, 2017.
Elias spoke to me about her new album while she prepped for a tour at home in New York City.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your new album Dance of Time?
There were a couple of ideas for the new album. The first was celebrating the 100 years of the samba. When I talk about samba, I’m talking about the rhythm of it, and bringing that percussive feel to the piano. The samba is something that reaches everyone in our culture. It goes from the poorest person to the richest person, and across all races. It’s the glue of our Brazilian culture. I also wanted to feature guests that were really important during the start of my career. As of this year, I’ve been on the road now for 40 years, and I started on the road with Toquinho and Vinicius de Moraes. That was my first international opportunity to play Brazilian music. And also, Amilton Godoy, who was my mentor and piano teacher, and the head of the school where I became a teacher at the age of 15. There are also musicians from the United States that have been so important for me, like Randy Brecker and Mike Manieri, and more recently, Mark Kibble.
Why did you record the album in Brazil?
I chose to record in Brazil because I wanted to capture the authenticity of the rhythm, and I used these amazing musicians that I discovered I had an affinity with when I recorded my album Made in Brazil. On this record we did not use acoustic bass, we used electric bass because I wanted to really go down! I wanted to use that fifth string and have the sustain and punctuation of the instrument – the way the electric bass speaks for the samba.
The new album has a wide variety of styles on it – from traditional Brazilian music, to originals and even some unexpected versions of jazz classic like “Speak Low.” How did you go about choosing the repertoire for the record?
Well, I envisioned doing the song “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me” as a Bossa Nova, bringing a Brazilian groove to it. I’ve always liked it, and it’s a tune that I’ve wanted to record for quite a while. I remember [Frank] Sinatra doing it. He recorded his famous duet album with [seminal Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos] Jobim I think 50 years ago this year. So it’s my personal nod to those two recording the Bossa Nova, with an American “standard.” With “Speak Low,” I wanted to do something different, so it becomes a samba at the end.
After 40 years of touring, are there things that you are trying to do now that are different than when you began your career? For instance, the last time we spoke you mentioned you were adding an electric keyboard to your live set-up to bring different textures into your show.
Oh, I have a story to tell you about that. I was touring for the Made in Brazil album, and on my [contract] rider I had an electric keyboard that was part of the show. I was really enjoying doing that, until I was playing this really large theater in Lisbon, Portugal. I had the keyboard facing the audience, and when I got to the very end of one the tunes from the record – I think it was the tune “Incendiando.” I played the last chord, and the entire keyboard fell on the floor! It was about a quarter of an inch from the tip of my toe. It made a huge BANG, and the entire audience reacted with a roar. And I said, “Okay, I don’t want any keyboards on the stage anymore!”
You’re becoming very rock and roll, destroying your equipment on stage!
[She laughs]. Yeah. I told the audience that it was just part of the show!