The sheer rhythmic vitality of Brazilian singer/pianist Eliane Elias and her quartet gave a massive lift to the spirits of a full house last night at Ronnie Scott‘s. Listeners were more getting more and more palpably, physically energized by the music as the evening progressed. And a long row of professional musicians by the bar stood there. Agawp, totally transfixed. If the band didn’t get the unanimous standing ovation which it seemed to be heading towards all evening, that was for one reason, and a boring practical one at that: they don’t happen at Ronnie’s. It is physically impossible for the large numbers seated in the booths at the sides to raise their bodies to upright. Last night, if we could have stood, we would have. Many did.
Elias and her group, including husband/ legend Marc Johnson on bass, were in a mood to celebrate. Johnson was celebrating his return to a club which he had visited in another century as a member of the Woody Herman Band and of the Bill Evans Quartet. Eliane Elias, also a returner, was mainly celebrating fiftieth birthdays for the bossa nova, and for Ronnie’s (suddenly it’s fifty years of everything). Rubens de La Corte was on impeccably played nylon-string guitar, and drummer Rafael Barata was explosive yet totally controlled at the kit.They were just celebrating, and making a big statement about great music.
Elias is an astonishing pianist. The best I can do is to explain that I can’t explain. How she does what she does as a pianist remains an enigma to me. That left hand is a store of huge power, the internal voicings and lines are complex, multidirectional, polyrhythmic, there is always masses of information being laid down. And yet, and yet – and this is the miracle- somehow there is always space. Marc Johnson’s rollicking bass solo lines – for example last night in Chega de Saudade– were never clouded or subverted or questioned. The more I understand about this music, the more I am capable of being surprised. If someone has an answer this, then the comment section below is definitely all yours for the night, for a week, or for as long as you want it or need it.
Elias is also a fine idiomatic singer, at her best in the inherently musical inflexions of her native Brazilian Portuguese. She could be singing about anything, but I would gladly stockpile industrial quantities of the Tristeza, Amor and Alegria and the like from her Por Causa De Voce (Don’t Ever Go Away), sung to her own gentle but mesmerising accompaniment.. And as for Call Me by Tony Hatch, Elias’ must -please, please – be the timeless classic, and wipe the memory of the rest.
The support band last night was the Nigel Price Hammond Organ Trio: Price on guitar, Pete Whittaker on Hammond and Matt Home on drums. The neatness, tidiness and tightness of this band at full tilt in numbers like SOS by Wes Montgomery and Mozambique by Nigel Price was compelling. But they can also do low-down and loose. Price does skittering flautando harmonics disappearing up the fingerboard as well as any guitarist in the UK. Whittaker can lay down a carpet of sound as accompanist, but was constantly surprising with dynamic shifts, with colour and timbre, with melodic invention, and if they can ever clone Matt Home, then sorry guys, the metronome business is finished. Anyone giving a party where you can’t be sure what mood you will need the music to reflect, these are your guys. I saw some MPs in ast night’s audience: this might be just the band to book for election night…..
Another great night. The people I chatted to last night were from Washington DC, Cosenza in Calabria and Stockholm. Londoners, take it from me, kick yourselves: you missed something special.