Eliane Elias

LEDA CATUNDA, A Vitrine, 1984, acrylic without artificial fur, 200x400cm
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By LUCAS FIASCHETTI ESTEVEZ*

Commentary on the recent presentation of the pianist and singer

Last Saturday, March 18, pianist and singer Eliane Elias, accompanied by bassist Marc Johnson, kicked off the 2023 International Piano Festival at Sala São Paulo. Brazilian based in the United States, Eliane Elias returns to Brazil as one of the most prominent pianists in contemporary jazz. With a career that totals 31 albums, the artist has performed in more than 75 countries and won several international awards. Recently, she was awarded the Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album, with the work Mirror mirror (2022), a partnership with Chick Corea and Chucho Valdés.

For more than an hour, the stage at Sala São Paulo gave way to a pianistic practice that turns its aversion to closed forms into its greatest virtue – in the words of the artist herself, a show of “improvisational character”. Eliane Elias, with the essential support of Marc Johnson, glided through different genres, temporalities and geographies of jazz. Although she is commonly described as an artist who carries the legacy of bossa nova, the so-called “Latin music” and North American jazz, we must go beyond such a characterization: Eliane Elias demonstrates how this constellation of multiple influences only makes sense when the The very separation between one style and another is abolished.

See, for example, the unclassifiable The Time Is Now, which excited the audience. As in an agitated river, everything is mixed up there without resulting in a loss of musical meaning. On the contrary: a bossa-nova theme, seasoned with typically Caribbean accents, performed through the most agile jazz improvisation set the tone of a song that makes the constant shift between styles its virtue, which puts it in a position opposed to the hegemonic musical standard. . Eliane Elias demonstrated this kind of “good daring” very well in the excellent performance of B Is For Butterfly, a unique composition in which the partnership with Marc Johnson is one of its highlights. In his partner's double bass, the intense glissandos are associated with Eliane's sliding gesture, an example of a kind of ideal mutualism between the two.

In her extensive career, Eliane Elias has albums where she combines her vocal interpretation with the piano, as is the case of Made in brazil (2015) and Dance of Time (2017). On the other hand, the strength of his pianistic practice comes out most prominently on bolder instrumental albums, where we find his improvisatory freedom to surface. In Holding Together (1999), from the time he was part of the group step ahead, we noticed how the pianist also feels very comfortable in jazz that is more open and uncompromised with shortcuts and clichés.

Em Music from Man of La Mancha (2018), in turn, Caribbean influences run through many of the tracks. Already in Solos And Duets (1994), a four-hand album with Herbie Hancock, we are faced with one of the best moments of his career. In White wing, the famous passage that opens Luiz Gonzaga's music sometimes serves as a distant, almost unrecognizable reference. Gradually, however, she reaches the musical surface. In the next instant, it is already submerged again in a complex improvisational plot, which honors the theme by submitting it to the test of continuous artistic elaboration.

On Saturday night, the public could witness the same modus operandi in the execution of I Love My Wife, in a long-winded reinterpretation of the Bill Evans version. In such music, the old songs are mediated at every measure by an anti-formalist work whose sole intention is to produce something new and unstable., that makes performance an act of reinvention of tradition, that is there to be turned upside down.

The presentation was crowned with an excellent performance by out of tune, especially in Eliane Elias' long introductory improvisation on Tom Jobim's famous theme. At the end, Marc Johnson's brief switch from pizzicato to arco is also worth mentioning, in a lyrical moment in which the rapport between the two artists reveals itself even deeper – a language without strings attached, a kind of musical conversation without the interdictions of standardized music. .

On their latest album, Stillness (2022), Eliane Elias already anticipated her return to Brazil mixing her voice with the piano, reinterpreting bossa nova classics. At a certain point of No more fights, the opening verse serves as a glove for the pianist's return to Brazil. On that stage in São Paulo, Eliane Elias “arrived, smiled, won and then cried”.

*Lucas Fiaschetti Estevez is a doctoral student in sociology at USP.

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