Let Eliane Elias Bring You a Sense of Calm
‘Quietude,’ the new album by the Sao Paolo-born pianist, singer, and bandleader, elicits thoughts of a beautiful day at the beach.
Eliane Elias, ‘Quietude’
(Candid Jazz Records)
Think about a beautiful woman lying on a beach at the very edge of the water. The sun is shining, the softest of breezes is blowing, and she’s essentially motionless as the waves of the ocean gently wash over her legs and her torso.
Listen for just a few minutes to “Quietude,” the new album by the Sao Paolo-born pianist, singer, and bandleader Eliane Elias, and that’s the image you’ll find stuck in your head. Certainly it was for me this past weekend at the Iridium, when Ms. Elias and her quartet launched the album as part of a four-night run.
“Quietude” arrives at a kind of a moment of referendum for pan-American jazz piano: Her previous album, “Mirror Mirror,” which was released a year ago, was a three-way team-up with fellow titans of the form Chucho Valdez and Chick Corea, and won the Grammy for Latin Jazz earlier this year. All three pianists are still very much on our minds, Senor Valdez not least because he just played a triumphant concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center last week, and Corea, because he passed away not long after recording his four duets with Ms. Elias; the world entire continues to mourn his considerable loss.
As Ms. Elias explained on Saturday at the Iridium, the two current albums of the pandemic moment represent two different facets of her talent. “Mirror Mirror” was exclusively piano, while “Quietude” stresses her singing. The contrast between the two is notable: as a pianist, Ms. Elias’s technical chops are on full display, she can do the full-on Bud Powell pure bebop thing, playing as many notes and chords as possible in the fastest tempo imaginable.
Conversely, her singing, perhaps somewhat deceptively, seems to rely on a bare minimum of actual technique. Her vocal style is very much in the tradition of the late bossa nova pioneer Joao Gilberto, who was himself highly influenced by Chet Baker, the North American trumpeter and occasional vocalist who, as if to tie this stream of influences in a neat ribbon, Ms. Elias celebrated in her 2013 album, “I Thought About You.”
Indeed, Ms. Elias is still thinking about both Gilberto and Baker in that her singing — like the woman on the beach — uses as little motion as possible, though the term “monotone” is a tad draconian for such a beautiful sound.
Ms. Elias’s current quartet features bassist Marc Johnson, who is married to Ms. Elias and is best known for his work with Bill Evans; guitarist Leandro Pellegrino; and percussionist Rafael Barata. They began the evening with “To Each His Dulcinea” from her album “Music from ‘Man of La Mancha,’” released in 2018 after being recorded more than 20 years earlier. Here, she reinterprets the score of the classic Broadway musical and delivers yet another truly essential album.
She followed with the 1939 “Aquarela do Brasil,” an old school Brazilian classic — in fact, probably the single most famous song to come out of that country before the bossa nova. The keyboard work and the arrangement were superlative, and her singing operates on several levels. To New Yorkers and North Americans, it’s a song of exotic and romantic antics below the equator; in her own understated fashion, though, Ms. Elias sings it in a way that’s achingly nostalgic — a memoir in music, an autobiography in rhythm.
The bulk of the 90-minute Saturday show was a set-within-a-set of music from “Quietude,” which, she explained, was inspired by the ideal of more or less impromptu performances given in Brazilian apartments — a much quieter and more intimate music than you hear in the dance halls or the parades.
These emphasize her voice and Mr. Pellegrino’s guitar, along with Mr. Barato light playing on a much smaller-scale drum setup with brushes. As captured on the album, this is Brazilian music that’s marvelously personal, not about the celebration of chops but the cherishing of a mood and a moment.
The album also features two guest stars, the songwriter Dori Caymmi, who joins Ms. Elias for a touching, climactic duet on the final song, “Saveiros,” and the late guitar legend Oscar Castro-Neves on “Tim-Tim Por Tim-Tim,” a track Ms. Elias has apparently been saving for at least a decade.
The final segment of the Iridium set included two familiar Antonio Carlos Jobim classics, “A Felicidade” and “Desafinado,” the latter broken down into a set of distinct choruses: solo piano, then piano and full rhythm, then extended solos by Mr. Johnson and by Mr. Perata. The night officially concluded on a subdued note with the Mexican ballad “Esta Tarde Vi Llover (Yesterday I Heard the Rain).” This had served as a four-handed duo with Senor Valdez on “Mirror Mirror,” but here was mostly unaccompanied and understated.
After the standing ovation — hardly surprising but fully earned — the singer-pianist led the audience in a singalong of João Donato’s “Só danço Samba” in which all of us chanted the familiar refrain of “Vai, vai, vai, vai, vai.” It was a fitting finale, complete with a useful instruction, since “vai” is the Portuguese word for “go” — though nobody felt like leaving.