Elaine Elias | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Elaine Elias


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On her latest album--which carries the self-explanatory title Solos and Duets--pianist Eliane Elias invited Herbie Hancock to join her for a ten-minute improvised fantasia on the jazz standard "The Way You Look Tonight." Hancock has engaged in these dueling-keyboard scenarios before, usually with Chick Corea, and usually to bad effect. This track, nominated for a 1996 Grammy, has more glue and substance, and one figures that has much to do with Elias. In her trio recordings the Brazilian-born pianist has steadily proved her musicianship, navigating her own polyrhythmic arrangements with knuckle-busting improvisations. Elias uses a silky touch that makes the notes skip from the keyboard like reflected light. It's a quality to which jazz aficionados often assign a feminine quality (as in "plays like a girl"), but in Elias's case, gender has nothing to do with it. Her music's airiness comes instead from the scintillating undulations of her native Sao Paulo and from the urban patois that created the bossa nova in the nation's south (as opposed to bossa nova's more heavily rhythmic precursors, which stem from Bahia, the Afrocentric state in the country's northeast). Elias's roots extend equally to the classical music on which she trained and to the American jazz recordings she heard from childhood on. Bundling it all together, she spends some of her energies inventively recasting her homeland's music--spinning intercontinental fables from her pan-American vantage point--and almost as much time on slippery, nationless improvisations that fall somewhere in between all the idioms at her disposal. Elias's albums always include at least one photo that shows off her impressive figure and the classic contours of her face, most often arranged in an indolent pout--exactly the sort of ploy traditionally used to distract consumers from artistic mediocrity. Then she starts to play and blows that theory straight to hell. Tuesday, 5 PM, Borders Books & Music, 830 N. Michigan; 573-0564. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jay Gullixson.

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