Eliane Elias ‘Music from Man of La Mancha’ CD (Concord Jazz) 4/5

Brazilian pianist Eliane Elias returns with a piano trio concept album which has the compositions of a Broadway musical from 1964 as its creative genesis. She is accompanied by Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette on some of the tracks, and bassist and husband Marc Johnson and drummer Satoshi Takeishi on drums elsewhere, with Manolo Badrena on added percussion. The music itself was originally inspired by the masterpiece novel in the seventeenth century by Miguel de Cervantes, ‘Don Quixote’, and to this writer’s knowledge, this is the first time that any jazz musician has seen fit to translate this into a jazz idiom, at least as comprehensively as this. Needless to say, there is a strong and distinctive Spanish tinge to the music and that makes the album all the more interesting. The nearest thing Elias has previously attempted was her trio exploration of the Americas in the late 1990s, and that was a truly outstanding recording. This new project is more narrowly focused and this allows the music to be centre stage, with the intimacy of the trio prioritised and what a fine piece of work has resulted.A gently lifting, ‘What Does He Want Of Me?’, features some moody blues inflections, while the superb interplay between trio and some sensitive work from DeJohnette and subtle nuances of tone by Elias are a highlight of ‘It’s All The Same’. That subtlety extends to the use of percussion on, ‘The Barber’s Song’, which has a rich Spanish feel, though underneath is a gentle nod to Brazilian Baião rhythms. One of the strongest numbers has a terrific Latin vamp on, ‘I’m Only Thinking of Him’, which has an upbeat bossa drum beat, and Elias is at her most natural Brazilian best. Meanwhile, a samba-jazz reading of, ‘The Impossible Dream’, works a treat. Lovely bass soloing from Gomez on the gorgeous ballad, ‘Dulcinea’, rounds off a lovely trio outing. As ever, with any Eliane Elias album, the cover photos always aim to dazzle and impress. On this occasion, however, the look is more restrained and the pose almost flamenco dance-esque, with the pianist in Spanish señorita mode, complete with a red flower in her hair.

Tim Stenhouse