Eliane Elias: Something for You

The Brazilian-American pianist (and sometime singer) dials up a middling tribute to a much greater jazz pianist.

Eliane Elias

Something for You

Subtitle: Eliane Elias Sings and Plays Bill Evans
Contributors: Eliane Elias, Marc Johnson, Joey Baron, Bill Evans
Label: Blue Note
US Release Date: 2008-01-15
UK Release Date: 2008-01-14

The shadow cast across jazz piano by Bill Evans is enormous. The same, of course could be said of Bud Powell or Teddy Wilson. But Evans's shadow is the most distinctive. While Evans inspired a series of truly original followers who integrated his style into the larger history of jazz piano, he has also inspired a million copycats. His voicings and impressionist harmonic influence stamp the sound of too many who loved his playing.

Now comes the impressive Brazilian-American pianist Eliane Elias and her Something for You, on which she "Sings and Plays Bill Evans" -- a full album of Evansiana from a pianist who most certainly stands in his shadow. The inevitable question, then: How well does Elias escape being a copycat?

The odds should be good that Elias remains herself. She is a veteran player, and she comes by her Evans associations not only as a pianist but also as the wife of Evans's last bass player, Marc Johnson. And because of her bossa-styled vocals and Brazilian approach, she might bring a distinctive spice to her Evans tribute. "Blue and Green", for example, is played as a very slow samba, and so the familiarity of Evans's characteristic modal harmonies gets a shot of hip electricity.

On the vocal tracks, of course, Elias sounds reasonably like herself. "Minha" is a Brazilian tune that Evans recorded, and Elias performs it on piano and voice only in a manner even more muted and tremulous than the icon himself. The medley of "But Beautiful/Here's That Rainy Day" contains no bossa groove, but Elias delivers the first tune with a nicely undersung phrasing, then segues into the second tune as an instrumental. "Here Is Something for You" is a "newly discovered" Evans tune, something that Evans gave to Marc Johnson on a cassette shortly before his death. Elias has written lyrics for it, and she delivers it here in another solo performance (and then ends the album with a blend of that cassette and her vocal chorus). Her singing, not great but certainly pleasant, is an asset to the collection.

Still, the bulk of Something for You is stuck in second gear, not able to pull away from the pack of regular Evans acolytes. On Evans's signature tune, "Waltz for Debby", Elias plays with aplomb but never becomes herself. Even the vocal serves mainly to remind us of how superb The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album was. The straight-ahead instrumentals have a harder time. "My Foolish Heart" was recorded here with Johnson playing Scott LaFaro's bass -- the very bass used on the classic Live at the Village Vanguard records -- but this only reinforces similarities. On "Solar", the trio -- including a tasty Joey Baron on brushes -- is animated, but not necessarily fresh. On this track they sound less like an Evans trio, perhaps, than they do like Keith Jarrett's Standards group in miniature.

But the bottom line remains this: most of these performances are precisely the kind of highly competent but slightly ho-hum mainstream jazz that could have been recorded at any time in the last 50 years. This is not to say that every performer in jazz is honor-bound to innovate at every turn, but if the bulk of the jazz made in the 1970s and 1980s had sounded like a faded carbon copy of Armstrong's Hot Five sides, we'd have a right to be critical. So you listen to "But Not for Me" on this disc and you have to wonder whether you wouldn't be better off listening to Evans himself. The most distinctive thing about Something for You ends up being Elias's bossa-style vocals on tunes where they're not expected ("A Sleepin' Bee", "Detour Ahead"). And while they distinguish the record in some sense, Elias is not a top-drawer jazz singer like, say, Luciana Souza, or even the pop-ier Diana Krall.

Eliane Elias, it might be noted, started out with classical music and has released classical recordings alongside her jazz and Brazilian music output. Her formidable talent still sounds spread around, even here where she is focused on a single figure in tribute. The more you listen to her play, the more you respect her musicality, but jazz requires more than great technique. Something for You inevitably gets you wondering, "Who are you, Eliane Elias?"

The answer, in 2007, is neither as narrow as "Bill Evans copycat" but nor as expansive as a true jazz identity. Twenty years into a recording career, perhaps we expect more.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.