Eliane Elias Delivers a Bossa Nova Love Letter

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“Many artists have taken a shot at bossa nova, but Quietude is different. It is authentic,” Elias said of her new album.

(Photo: Courtesy Eliane Elias)

Eliane Elias scored a rarity in 2022. The renowned singer and remarkable pianist won two Grammys in the same year for her radiant Mirror Mirror recording on Candid Records that featured her in scintillating duo adventures with close friends Chick Corea and Chucho Valdés — her first solo piano outing since 1995, when she delivered Solos And Duets, a Blue Note album featuring duets with Herbie Hancock.

In the February 2022 Grammys, Elias garnered the Best Latin Jazz Album award for Mirror Mirror, then in the Latin Grammy Awards in the November, she swung another victory for Best Latin Jazz Album. It was a celebration of virtuosos in close improvisational conversation, all the more valuable since the four-song New York session proved to be the final studio album before Corea’s death.

“The wins are very special,” said a buoyant Elias enjoying a rare moment at home during a tour break for her luscious new album, Quietude. “I did some research about the Grammys and Latin Grammys and found out that had never happened before. So what I did was historic. It was a validation of my work. I met Chick at the beginning of my career in Brazil when he toured with Gary Burton. He encouraged me and helped me get my work visa to live in New York. Chick was a presence at the beginning of my career and as it turned out, we were together again near the end of his. We played beautifully together.”

In the Mirror Mirror masterwork, the piano, of course, took center stage. For Quietude, Elias pivoted into a familiar setting, tapping into her bossa nova heritage with piano taking a cameo role. Her alluring vocals tell the stories here. It’s the 31st album by the New York-based Elias, whose career has blossomed once again. The album quickly jumped up the charts and has drawn crowds into marquee clubs, from the Yoshi’s in Oakland to Birdland in New York.

“This album couldn’t be more opposite than the last,” Elias said. “I play some piano, but it’s mostly doing some single-note melodies or playing the background. I do add in a couple of short piano solos, but this is really about the voice and acoustic guitar in the tradition of bossa nova.” She uses three prominent Brazilian guitarists on Quietude: Marcus Teixeira, Lula Galvão and the legendary Oscar Castro-Neves, who played with Elias until his passing in 2013. She presents him here on a previously unreleased recording of the delightful “Tim-Tim Por Tim-Tim.”

Sung with the romance of Brazilian Portuguese, the lyrical songs Elias chose come from the heart of the bossa nova movement. She breathes harmonic new life into two Jobim songs — including his poignant “Brigas, Nunca Mais/No More Fighting,” co-written with Vinicius de Moraes — and two colorful gems by Dorival Caymmi, who she said Jobim celebrated as his favorite Brazilian writer. His top-tier melody “Marina,” recorded in a quartet setting with Teixeira, drummer Celso Almeida and bassist/co-producer/husband Marc Johnson, stands as one of Elias’ favorite on the albums. She first learned to play this tune as a student when she was 10 years old.

Her goal for Quietude? To create an intimate, soothing soundscape for a disruptive time. “Right now, it’s a world of angst,” Elias said. “It’s been the pandemic, the politics, the need to transport ourselves to another world. Personally this album makes me feel good — at peace and relaxed”

She added that she had a conversation with Mark Wexler, the Candid label head, after she presented him with the Quietude music during the upheaval times. “He told me that he listened to the album 25 times,” she said. “He talked about the calmness of the music [and] finding the center.”

At a recent concert, Elias introduced the lifeblood of Quietude and demonstrated why the guitar plays a central role in the music in lieu of her piano brilliance. “I talk about how bossa nova originated,” she said. “It started in little apartments where people got together and composers played the guitar and brought their songs and people sang in soft voices. It was quiet. Someone would play a little percussion on match boxes, brushing a newspaper and for more upbeat samba pieces maybe lightly hitting on a glass for rhythm. There weren’t pianos. This is how the music started, so Quietude is the sound of the scene. I give short explanations of the songs and bring out the romance in the music. It’s so gratifying to me because this is where I find myself.”

While born in São Paulo, Elias focuses Quietude on Rio de Janeiro, where bossa nova was born and on the northeastern state of Bahia where some of the great composers flourished. She covers another memorable song from her youth, “Bahia Com H/Bahia With H” by Denis Brean, and duets with Galvão on Caymmi’s “Bahias Medley,” a highlight of her vocal beauty.

“I’ve always had a love affair with Bahia,” said Elias, who made the point visually by posing in a sunny seaside setting for the album’s cover photo. “Brazil’s music came from there, and the best composers live there. And the music is always active with new movements like Tropicalia. Unlike São Paulo, the people are very calm there, the culture is influenced by Africa.”

As a whole, Quietude represents an endearing homecoming for Elias, whose career has deep roots in her native country, especially with her lifelong friend Jobim. As a piano prodigy, she was enlisted by de Moraes to tour the world with him, which in turn introduced her to his co-writer, Jobim. It proved to be a fruitful association.

“I spent quite a bit of time with him,” Elias said. “He was very bright, had a great sense of humor, was very observant and very playful. He always drank Scotch and smoked cigars. But he also showed a darker side and at one point felt so disappointed in the lack of appreciation that he thought his career was over.”

Elias reflected on the dark period that inspired his classic song “Waters Of March,” sung in Portuguese but also translated into English. It ended up being the most recorded song of his oeuvre, surpassing even “The Girl From Ipanema.” “Jobim thought it was all over, but then it exploded and more songs came,” said Elias, who paid tribute to him with her 1990 album Eliane Elias Plays Jobim (Blue Note). “I wanted to do his music differently by arranging them for jazz.”

She contacted him and asked for his blessing. He had an apartment on Madison Avenue in New York, so she brought the music to him, saying, “This is going to sound different.”

“When I was playing it, I could see his face brighten, and he opened his eyes wide,” Elias said. “He loved it. He was thrilled.”

Four years later, Elias received a call from Jobim when saxophone titan Joe Henderson was in the stages of recording his tribute that was released the following year as the part-jazz, part-Brazilian album Double Rainbow: The Music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Jobim had gotten sick and wasn’t well enough to participate. “Jobim called me and said that I knew all his tunes,” Elias said. “He wanted the music to be done his way, so he asked me to replace him.”

Jobim died in December 1994, but he’s still alive to Elias. Asked what would he have thought about Quietude, she noted: “He would have loved the album, especially with my choice of material. And he would have been happy about the purity of the music, performed by masters as well as the swinging essence of my voice. He would have also been pleased with the honesty and sophistication. Many artists have taken a shot at bossa nova, but Quietude is different. It is authentic.” DB



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