Tall and Tan and Underrated

Eliane Elias

At the Lobero Theatre, Saturday, March 18.

It took famed pianist Eliane Elias years turned into decades to make her official Santa Barbara debut, which unfolded with expected flair and artistry, Saturday at the Lobero Theatre. Circa 2006, the question hovering over this gifted Brazilian-in-New-York might be: Which Eliane would show up? Would it be the pianist who started making waves in the jazz world with her nicely integrated virtuosity and romanticism, back in 1984, or the artist recently reborn as a singer of understated but glowing vocal gifts?

The answer at the Lobero was a resounding both, with more emphasis on the pianist aspect of her work. Slash marks are required in describing Elias’s musical path, as a musician who has expanded the sensibility of Brazilian/jazz and, more recently, become a notable pianist/singer (like Diana Krall, a pianist who unleashed the singer within and found new love, and new fame).

Elias’s last official album was 2004’s Dreamer, from which Saturday’s concert included the cleverly Brazilian-ized versions of the tunes “Call Me,” “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” and “Tangerine.” But for further and deeper listening, proceed to the veritable “hidden treasure” that is last year’s Shades of Jade, under the name of her husband, bassist Marc Johnson. While her name isn’t on the cover, it might as well be an Elias album, given her roles as key player, writer, and co-producer. It’s one of her most artful recordings in years.

Much of that side of her work came out at the Lobero, particularly in the tight rapport she has developed working in her trio with Johnson, who always seems to play the right thing, and dynamic drummer Satoshi Takeishi. Their extended, suite-like version of Jobim’s “Desafinado” — sans vocals — was the high point of the night, opening with one of Elias’s elaborate, inventively wandering solo introductions and working through Johnson’s chamber-ish arco bass part and Takeishi’s riveting solo. Nylon-string guitarist Freddie Bryant joined in intermittently, mostly to add Brazilian flavor and color.

For an encore, Elias coyly pulled out more Jobim-iana, starting with “Girl from Ipanema,” with some sneaky harmonic tweaking giving it a special tang, and a bright, brisk run through “Jazz and Samba.” It was a fitting wink of a closer for an artist who has lined her musical path with the wisdom and logic of both jazz and samba, not to mention bossa nova, standards, versatile pianism, and, increasingly, subtle vocalism. She’s an impressive package, whom we hope to see and hear in this space again soon.

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