REVIEW: Eliane Elias + Ed Motta at the Barbican

Ed Motta and Arto Mäkelä at Jazzahead in Bremen, March 2015
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Eliane Elias + Ed Motta
(Barbican Hall, Mon 4th May 2015. Review by Alison Bentley)

A thoughtful pairing by the Barbican of two Brazilian musicians and their bands: singer-pianist-composer Eliane Elias, steeped in bossa nova and jazz, with Ed Motta, younger Brazilian soul-funk-Latin star. Fans of each could be introduced to the other’s music.

After decades of listening to recordings of Elias’ music, which often sounds pleasantly languid, her onstage energy was a delight, and her piano-playing wildly percussive. Ladeira Da Preguiça opened, with delicate rimshot patterns from drummer Rafael Barata, as detailed as a percussion section. Many songs in the set were from her new album Made in Brazil , including her subtle version of Barroso’s Brasil (Aqualera do Brasil). Elias’ voice was rich-toned, and her deep register even recalled the high range of Ivan Lins or Milton Nascimento. In Menescal’s Você her piano was Herbie Hancock-like with its bluesy grace notes- which were very graceful indeed. The unison guitar/pno phrases that marked the songs’ contours throughout the gig were nicely played by Rubens de la Corte. The guitar comping augmented the sound well (but he was given no solos). It allowed Elias the freedom at times to focus on her singing, which she did brilliantly on Jobim’s Chega de Saudade. She negotiated its tricky intervals almost carelessly but with perfect accuracy. She told the story of how Jobim and lyricist Vinícius de Moraes came to a gig she was doing in São Paulo when she was 17- how they invited her to tour with them, and she ‘learned about bossa from its creators.’

Chet Baker was also a huge influence on bossa nova, Elias told us, with his instrumental-style, vibrato-free singing. She sang two songs from her tribute album to him. In the title track I Thought About You, Elias’ piano- and singing- swung like a fiery Diana Krall. It almost seemed as if the keys would fly off the keyboard as she struck the piano- you could hear the Oscar Peterson influence she’s talked about. In Embraceable You, she often cut the vocal lines short to play intricate piano fills.

Elias’s own Driving Ambition, a kind of funky cha cha, had Fender Rhodes, a double bass solo (Marc Johnson– also lyricist on this song) full of feeling, and an explosive drum solo. It was amazing to hear Barata let loose on the whole kit- and the audience agreed.

Barroso’s No Tabuleiro Da Baiana and Caymmi’s Rosa Morena took us back to more traditional bossa nova, Elias singing in that distinctively Brazilian way that sounds like breathing out and singing at the same time. She introduced the second song as ‘the blonde version of Rosa’, about a woman beginning to dance. She danced while singing, high heels sparkling. (Though she kicked off the heels to get down to some serious piano-playing!)

Gilbeto Gil’s Chiclete com Banana and Jobim’s So Danco Samba concluded the set, Elias trading sparky piano phrases with the drums. An excellent band- but Elias was the life force, and bringer of fun as well as virtuosity.

Ed Motta sings on a track on Elias’ latest album, and it would’ve been good to hear them sing together on this gig. But the bands were quite separate, in style too. Motta grew up loving 70s music, and you could hear hints of Stevie Wonder’s phrasing in his voice- but with a grainier sound. He tucked the jazz chords away behind the strong melodies and funky rhythms, the way Wonder does. Motta sang (and played on Fender Rhodes) a number of songs from his new album AOR– the English version (he’s recorded the same songs in Portuguese for the Brazilian market). The complex arrangements were seamlessly and groovily played by the band; on Simple Guy Motta scatted in duet with Arto Mäkelä’s guitar. Motta’s humour was disarming: ‘I call this one fake boogaloo, fake soul, fake..’, he introduced Lost in the Night. The rockier beat was very Steely Dan-esque, with embedded Latin beats, but the vocals were more Marvin Gaye, with a scratchy sweetness. The funk of Smile (and I certainly did) had a sizzling piano solo from Matti Klein and succulent slap bass from Laurent Salzard.1978 (‘#1 in Japan’) had hissing disco-like cymbals, and ended on a fine boppy jazz guitar solo. Many songs ended on instrumental solos, eschewing the usual tune-solos-tune formula.

Motta admires Motown hit-writers Holland-Dozier-Holland, and you could hear the influence in the catchy bass line and soulful vocals of Dondi. Farmer’s Wife had some samba, a little Crusaders, and a scorching drum solo from Miguel Casais.

Taken from Motta’s album of wordless singing (Dwitza), Um Dom Pra Salvador was particularly beautiful, with its voice/synth unison melodies. The wordless theme was carried into Motta’s solo spot, where he impersonated a whole range of 70s instrumental sounds vocally- from beatboxing to wah wah guitar.

Drive Me Crazy took the tempo back up with Acid Jazz grooves and overtones of Isaac Hayes. The ending was pleasingly unresolved, as many songs were- the chords drifted away.

Motta resisted pleas from the Brazilian part of the audience to play his hits, but ended on funky Latin songs- his compatriots clapped and sang along, and everyone else was happily swept along by the tidal wave of good feeling.

Categories: miscellaneous

Leave a Reply