In the summer of 1997, I saw Eliane Elias (elle-ee-annie, elle-ee-es) headline the Litchfield Jazz Festival on a Sunday afternoon under a big canvas tent at, I believe, Mt. Tom State Park in Litchfield. The festival has had so many venues, I’ve lost track.
It was a beautiful day but just as she started her set with her trio, Marc Johnson on bass and I believe Satoshi Takeishi on drums, the skies opened up on the first note of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Agua De Beber (Waters Of March). How could you dream up a more appropriate beginning for a concert by such an extraordinary talent?
I had only become acquainted with her music in the mid-1990s, but Elias, from Brazil, had been around on the jazz scene in this country since at least the mid- ’80s, playing at times with her then-husband Randy Brecker of the Brecker Brothers. I loved her mix of bossa nova and bebop with a classical base that she infused in standards, U.S. and Brazilian, and her compositions. Her playing has always combined astounding technique with a unique feel that so wonderfully blends American jazz leanings with strong latin influences.
She began singing on her albums in the early ’90s and has sung more and more over time with entire albums devoted to her cool, hushed Brazilian approach. With each album, her voice has become more dominant and upfront in the album mixes in contrast to its riding on top of or just in back of the music.
Bossa Nova Stories is her latest and it combines Brazilian classics with American standards. She has recorded The Girl From Ipanema at least four times that I know of and the standard opens the album. This one, as a number of other tracks on the album, features a tasteful, light-handed string arrangement by Rob Mathes. Still, the strings can be at times intrusive, making earlier versions of the tune preferable.
Throughout the record, Elias’ voice is enchanting when she sings in English but it is absolutely captivating when she sings in Portuguese on the Brazilian tunes, transporting you to another place and time. And her playing is exquisite, always at once proficient and swinging.
There are two other Jobim songs, Chega De Saudade and Desafinado, which she has always had a individualistic approach to playing, an Ivan Lins-Will Jennings song, I’m Not Alone (Who Loves You?), two Joao Donato tunes, one with Joao Gilberto, Minha Saudade, one with Caetano Veloso, A Ra (The Frog), Estate (Summer) by Martino-Brighetti, Geraldo Pereira’s Falsa Baiana and such American standards as The More I See You, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Day In Day Out, Too Marvelous For Words, Stevie Wonder’s Superwoman and Day By Day.
This album comes about one year after her tribute to Bill Evans, Something For You. A real treat for jazz fans.