By Edward Kliszus
Grammy award-winning pianist and vocalist Eliane Elias performed at the Birdland Jazz Club. With her were bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Rafael Barata. We were about to experience a picturesque musical venture into Brazilian mystique and romance.
The lighting, ambiance, and setting were perfect for the full house in attendance for tonight’s jazz concert. After Elias’ entry, she began a pianistic introduction and was momentarily joined by her accompanying duo. It was immediately apparent that this was a virtuoso trio psychically and musically connected by a vital three-way conversation of sensitive, intuitive engagement with the music. Every subtlety of the piano was instinctively supported by each sound of the drums, and the pitch and sounds of the double bass.
The trio’s interpretation and expression of their music are varied, fresh, and exciting. As drummer Joe Morello once explained to me, every member of a rhythm section (piano, bass, and drums) must maintain the mental imagery of a song to retain coherence, including its text, chorus, melody, and bridge. He suggested that when the finest drummers solo, they project the melody and form of the song; their improvisation is not a random group of sounds selected simply to display virtuosity. An astute listener can follow the song’s form as any member of the rhythm section improvises, and because jazz is an improvisatory medium, artistry, form, and context drive the work.
Simply put, this virtuoso trio has mastered the art of performing improvisatory music as a unit and as individuals while subtlety collaborating, creating unique sounds and beauty, and projecting poetic meaning through their music. The sum of the three performers is certainly greater than that of a simple trio.
Elias’ own warmth, smile, and gentle narratives of her homeland drew anticipation for the music we were about to experience. As she introduced each song, she frequently connected interesting anecdotes about the song’s setting, rhythm, composer, and lyrics. She inexorably drew the audience into the virtual world of each song, inspiring sentimental musings about the dance, beauty, charm, and romance of Brazil. She clearly enjoyed the music, dancing and moving as much as possible in a seating position at the piano where she reigns. Many audience members also danced in their seats as they responded to the energy and vitality of the bossa nova, samba, and more that were projected through the sheer brilliance of the trio. Elias even had the audience singing along in So Danco Samba.
Elias coaxed bassist Marc Johnson to perform a segment of his recent solo album Overpass. In this, he exhibited his skill in playing not only melody but accompanying it simultaneously on his lower strings. His hands moved like lightning with deftly accurate pitch, rich tones, vibrato, sumptuous harmonics, and passionate subtlety. Remarkable indeed.
Drummer Rafael Barrata’s use of percussion instruments was dazzling. He created a varied and rich kaleidoscope of sound that aptly supported his two partners and the music. His solos maintained a solid tempo, ensuring that the drive and character of the music remained at the forefront. His contributions were crafted with fire and elan. Not only were his hands and feet functioning independently as he played complex patterns and seamlessly switched from sticks to brushes and to hands, but he used a whistle in one selection.
Elias honors her predecessors. In her musical facon de parler, one hears tributes to Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Antônio Jobim and João Gilberto. She described her recording project with Chick Corea just before his passing and the subsequent Grammy award-winning album Mirror Mirror. Her facility and brilliance provide her with the means to effortlessly express whatever idea she imagines. She sings in both English and Portuguese, and some of the songs performed tonight were Jobim’s A Felicidade, Brazil, Other Bossa Nova, and Van Heusen’s Come Fly With Me.
Standing ovations at a jazz club are rare. Tonight was an exception. The audience stood for an extended, hearty tribute.
Music lovers, you will need to move quickly to see and hear Eliane Alias and her team at the Birdland Jazz Club for this limited engagement.
Runtime 90 minutes
Birdland Jazz Club
315 W 44th St #5402, New York, NY 10036
Tickets for Eliane Elias.