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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