On the centenary of Samba, Eliane Elias speaks to the BBC ‘s Weekend break.
Eliane Elias, review: Legend of the bossa queen
Elias proved she’s an artist at her peak, says Jane Cornwell 4/21/17
Spectacular playing: She’s told it before but she’ll tell it again: Eliane Elias was just 17, leading her trio at a gig in Sao Paolo, when she spotted Joao Gilberto and Vinicius de Moraes, the creators of bossa nova, seated down the front.
“As close as you are now,” said the New York-based virtuoso, 57, smiling at a rapt front row from behind a grand piano. Adding that she would go on to work with the pair for three years, she dedicated Chega de Saudade, the first ever bossa, in their honour, her sweet croon and spectacular playing – delicate skips, cascading trills, wildly percussive chords – vindicating their faith, and then some.
The double bassist Marc Johnson, formerly of Bill Evans’ trio, clung tenderly to his instrument, as if it was all too beautiful.
An artist at her peak, Elias is getting her dues. Her last record, 2015’s Made In Brazil, won her a Grammy, finally, after seven previous nominations (“So, you know, never give up!”).
Current album Dance of Time, a salute to samba and to the musicians who helped her on her way, went straight to Number One all over the place. Little wonder: tracks including a Latin-tinged Sambao Sambao and her own exquisite ballad, Little Paradise, fizzed with optimism, bathed you in warmth. “Obrigado,” she said at the end, looking heavenwards.
The Brazilian singer-pianist Eliane Elias must occasionally glance at the tour schedule of Diana Krall (two nights at the Albert Hall) and wonder why her star hasn’t risen quite so high. They are two glamorous women playing jazz with a breezy hipness. Elias’s voice is characterful if small compared with Krall’s, but as an improvising pianist she puts the Canadian in the shade.
Still, six sold-out shows at Ronnie Scott’s is no small achievement and Elias arrived trailing accolades for her new album, Dance of Time. Her career has mixed South American rhythms with North American jazz, but her first set was rooted firmly in the southern hemisphere.
The opener, Antônio Carlos Jobim’s Somewhere in the Hills, the first of many sambas, set the tone. Elias’s percussive left hand propelled the rhythms, her right hand embellishing the tune with intricate bebop and bravura flourishes. Drums, guitar and the double bass of her husband, Marc Johnson, added supple support and the music seemed to float. Sambou Sambou introduced Caribbean grooves, which would have inspired dancing in any audience that wasn’t seated and still digesting its dinner.
Elias wears her artistry lightly. Others with her pianistic skills might flaunt it on grand technocratic opuses. Instead, João Gilberto’s O Pato (The Duck) is a pop song about the singing adventures of assorted park life. It nonetheless found room for an elegant bowed bass solo from Johnson. The guitarist Rubens de La Corte offered discreet melodic support while the drummer Rafael Barata was all brushed precision.
Amid the sambas, there were gentler moments too. Elias’s tender love song Little Paradise showed off her writing talents. A guitar solo opened You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me, once a staple for Frank Sinatra. Yet as the set progressed the intensity increased, Elias introducing rolling blues and gospel chords, sparking funky interplay between piano and bass. The uptempo samba Coisa Feita developed a giddy momentum, with Barata unleashing a bravura solo on drums.
Thanks to the sunny contours of Brazilian music and those soft-focus album sleeves, there are some who still dismiss Elias as jazz-lite. A show such as this demonstrates how wrong they are.
Jazz: Eliane Elias at Ronnie Scott’s, W1 ★★★★☆
Congratulations to Grammy-winning pianist/singer/composer/arranger Eliane Elias as her new album, Dance of Time, debuts at #1 on Billboard’s Traditional Jazz Albums and World Music Albums Charts!
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!
Dance of Time is #1 on the iTunes US Jazz Chart on release day in the USA, Brazil, Germany and France!
Thank you, all my friends for your support.
“Dance of Time is inspired, deftly musical, and truly accessible to a wide range of listeners from jazz to pop to Brazilian music. It’s virtually flawless.” ****
Eliane Elias: Dance of Time review – sultry vocals, scintillating piano
Spontaneity … the Brazilian singer and pianist Eliane Elias
As a vocalist, the Brazilian Eliane Elias radiates as much starry smooth-jazzy hipness as Diana Krall, but as an improvising pianist she’s in a different league: a wellspring of polished bebop lines and skittish flourishes. Jazz hardliners might shy away from the purr of her sultry vocal sound, but the smart thing about this reappraisal of her long career is that her piano spontaneity coaxes and illuminates the music at every turn. Elias’s trumpeter ex-husband Randy Brecker and Steps Ahead vibraphone partner Mike Mainieri are in the lineup, and the songs embrace jazz standards, Brazilian classics and poignant originals such as the dreamy Little Paradise. Elias is scintillating on the João Gilberto vehicle O Pato, and turns Kurt Weill’s Speak Low into a Latin glide with Brecker’s flugelhorn curling through it. Her duet with veteran Brazilian singer-songwriter Toquinho on Not to Cry (Pra Não Chorar) makes a resonant finale, not least because Toquinho half-wrote it for her when she was 18, and it took this memorable session for them to complete it.
Thursday 23 March 2017
Billboard kicks off Carnival with an exclusive premiere of a track from the Brazilian jazz pianist and singer’s upcoming album.
Eliane Elias’ new album Dance of Time celebrates the centennial of samba — and the rhythm of Brazilian carnival.
“Samba is the most authentic and contagious dance rhythm of Brazil,” says the celebrated jazz pianist and singer. “And there is no better place in the world to capture this music. I just had to be in Brazil to make Dance of Time.”
LOS ANGELES – There are two kinds of samba. There is the rough, rootsy street music of early samba greats like Cartola, from samba’s golden age between the 1920s and the 1950s, and there is the softer, lyrical and more musically complex style developed since and is constantly revolving. The undisputed master of the latter is the legendary GRAMMY-winning pianist, singer, composer and arranger Eliane Elias, whose upcoming March 24, 2017 Concord Jazz label CD called Dance of Time, reminds us why samba and Brazilian music has endured commercially for well over 100 years.
Two years after seducing fans with her GRAMMY-winning Made in Brazil (Best Latin Jazz Album), Eliane was back in the studios in New York and her native Brazil to work on Dance of Time. Eliane’s style of samba owes a great deal to choro, a slower, jazz and tango influenced style of samba that emerged in the 1930s. It extended range of instruments and beyond the traditional percussion, guitar, and cavaquinho (a miniature guitar with a sound like a picked banjo) to take in the piano, flugelhorn, and trumpet.
According to a press release issued by Concord Jazz Records, “…With the presence of extraordinary guests including pianist Amilton Godoy plus singer-songwriting guitarists João Bosco and Toquinho—from Brazil—along with trumpeter Randy Brecker, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and singer Mark Kibble—from the United States, Dance of Time celebrates certain people who were integral in Elias’ early artistic journey in both Brazil and the U.S. “I wanted to include musicians who were very important in the start of my career,” Elias says. “Dance of Time represents the spectrum of my career from the very beginning until now.”
The album is beautifully played and contains beautifully arranged classics, contemporary samba, and its quality shows up much current samba to the delight of those who like their samba with a rush! Dance of Time alternates between slower, choro-influenced sambas (O Pato, You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me, Copacabana) and a more upbeat, good time dance numbers of the style known as samba-cancao (By Hand-Em Maos, An Up Dawn, Coisa Feita) both are marked by Eliane’s lyrical genius.
One of the things I greatly admire about Eliane is that she always – literally always – shows respect and reverence to her native culture and Brazilian (samba) music. On many occasions a lot of Brazilian artists and non-Brazilian artists betray the rich and lively roots of samba with the increasing obsession with Carnival as a tourist spectacle. With Dance of Time, Eliane stays true to those spiritual roots and marked yet again a triumphant return to record a Brazilian national treasure.
By Danny R. Johnson
San Diego County News’ Jazz and Pop Music Critic