Eliane Elias ‘Made in Brazil’ (Concord) 4/5

eliane-eliasBrazilian pianist and now chanteuse Eliane Elias returns with another varied set of classic Brazilian composers from the bossa nova period coupled with some of her own compositions. Of interest this time round is the creative use of voicings and it certainly sounds as though Elias has been inspired by the harmony vocals of Manhattan Transfer on some of the numbers. One of the strongest pieces is Elias’ own ‘Driving ambition’ which is a stunning minor chord number with the subtle use of electric piano phrasings that Herbie Hancock deployed back in the 1970s and this provides greater flexibility for the band to shine with vocals delivered by the leader in English. Similarly Elias excels on the minor chord melancholia of the trio outing on ‘Incendiando’ where verses are sung in both English and Portugese. Last up on the album, but a strong contender for the most compelling song is the uptempo samba, ‘No tabuleiro da Baiana’ and this writer would definitely like to hear more in this vein when the blues-inflected piano and vocals are so catchy with an extended piano solo. Perhaps Eliane Elias might think about devoting a future project to the post-bossa period when composers of the calibre of Jorge Ben and João Bosco wrote some devastating music. What a thrill it would be to hear Elias tackle that kind of material and it would enable her to cover a more varied set of tempi. For a more laid back approach, ‘Rio’ fits the bill admirably and then part way through goes up a gear while Elias’ own composition ‘Some enchanting place’ again with voicings is an accurate representation of where the pianist/singer is currently at. Vocalese group Take 6 are on hand to accompany Elias on the album’s opening song and virtual unofficial Brazilian anthem, ‘ Brasil (Aquarela do Brasil)’ that features a retro 1970s fender solo from the leader.

In parts the strings are a little intrusive and overly lush as on ‘Searching’, but overall they do not detract from the whole and it is an art in itself as to when and to what extent one should incorporate strings into a jazz idiom. One burning question remains? Does the vocalist in Eliane Elias take away from the virtuoso pianist? It is in fact the case that Elias is growing in confidence as a vocalist while remaining a supremely gifted and ever sensitive pianist and retains a trio that can still swing hard. Not an easy balance to strike between these elements, but on this evidence Eliane Elias has succeeded in creating a harmonious balance and the listener is most definitely the beneficiary.

Tim Stenhouse