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Review: Eliane Elias


Review: Eliane Elias
Ronnie Scott’s, February 21st 2011, first night of three)

Eliane Elias occupies a unique position at the teeming, bubbling confluence of two of the great, fast-moving musical rivers of our time, the Brazilian bossa and bahiana traditions, and American jazz music. She is also one heck of a pianist, and has been for decades. She told last night’s audience the story of being newly arrived in New York at the age of 20, walking into the Steinway showroom, trying out one of the pianos, being overheard by the president of Steinway, and instantly being offered a loan piano.

The last show which Elias and her quartet brought to the UK in 2009 was exclusively focussed on the bossa. This programme contained some imortal bossa numbers too- Chega Do Saudade/ No More Blues, A Ra/ The Frog, A Felicidade, Ipanema… – but it also ranged more widely. The bahiana numbers with their rhythmic swagger were fabulous. A version of “They Can’t Take that Away from Me” seemed to contain the lovely line “The way you sink of quay” (joke). But the band’s hushed, behind-closed-Doors rendition of “Baby Light My Fire” was less convincing.

Elias has a stunning new young guitarist in Ricardo Vogt, who took his two or three brief opportunities to shine in great style, but sometimes got lost in the balance. Marc Johnson on bass needed his amp and bass replaced, but his strong melodic arco voice in “Ipanema” stays firmly in the mind. One gets into the vibe of this band by watching Johnson constantly swaying, responding physically to the propulsive groove, whether playing or indeed just listening. Rafael Barata keeps fabulously lively time, and when he started to fire on all cylinders, in Jobim’s Desafinado, one could sense, feel a response from large sections of the audience.

Having said that, some Brits will never get it, will never loosen up. They will tell you they dread drum solos, and then listen to them completely immobile, and with a pained expression. Let it happen, and the rhythmic physicality of this band which never misses a beat will elicit a response from the neck down. There were reasons to frown last night, the band had technical problems and irritations to contend with, but what carried the band through was – yes professionalism, yes, experience – but also irrepressible joy in musicality and rhythmic verve. The next two nights, with the technical niggles sorted, will see Ronnie’s full and “en fete”.

Support last night was Tom Cawley’s Curios. Tom Cawley, Sam Burgess and Josh Blackmore’s quieter dreamier numbers – the longing, romantic “Plea,” the reflective (new) Calentura caught the audience’s attention completely. As Calentura built to a mid-point climax, I scribbled down the word “Rachmaninov.” I showed it to my short-sighted companion, who mis-read my jotting and nodded, “Yeah, Radiohead, you’re right.” This was a silly misunderstanding. And yet, somehow, it crystalizes what is so appealingly elusive in Cawley’s music.

For an update on the Elias discography, see our INTERVIEW
Eliane Elias is at Ronnie Scott’s tonight and tomorrow

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