02/02 8:00 PM & 10PM - $35.00
Marc Johnson / Eliane Elias
Marc Johnson: double bass
Eliane Elias: piano
Victor Lewis: Drums
“This kind of charged lyricism could only come from players who are capable of investing every note they play with palpable emotion as well as peerless technique.” – Echoes
Swept Away sees the top-class foursome of double-bassist Marc Johnson, pianist Eliane Elias, drummer Joey Baron and saxophonist Joe Lovano commune over music that is engaging and sensual, poetic and swinging. Brazilian-born star Elias previously joined ECM veterans Baron and Lovano on Johnson’s 2005 ECM album, Shades of Jade, which reaped praise far and wide. The New York Times enthused over the “luminescence” created by the close partnership between Johnson and Elias, while The Village Voice said the album was “shimmering” yet “its lusciousness has all sorts of tensile strength.” The same words suit Swept Away just as well, if not more so. The album includes a brace of melody-rich Elias compositions, ranging from the quiet intimacy of the title track and easy-flowing lyricism of “B Is for Butterfly” to a gorgeous romanticism in “Moments” that seems to stop time. Her relentlessly rocking, Eastern-tinged “One Thousand and One Nights” is another highlight, as is Johnson’s evocation of after-hours atmosphere, “Midnight Blue.” The album closes with the bassist’s solo treatment of the old American folk song “Shenandoah,” a poignant remembrance of his family from the Midwest. Swept Away is music of depth that is disarmingly easy to love.
A sense of romance and rhapsody pervades Swept Away, the writing giving dramatic context for the interactive rapport of the players in both trio and quartet configurations. There is also a spacious feel to the music that stems from the environment in which much of it was written, the home Johnson and Elias share in the Hamptons, New York. “I’ve written music in the bustle of Manhattan, on airplanes, every hectic sort of place,” Elias says. “But we have a very different sort of relationship to sound out there, one that finds its way into the feel of the writing.” Johnson adds: “There is definitely a feeling of quietude and space there that is inspiring for us. Nature is closer, and you can really see the changing of seasons. I think you can hear it in the music’s openness and lyricism.”
Whether it’s dancing in synchronous counterpoint or floating on quietly reflective pools of sound, Swept Away is the work of master musical storytellers. On their own, Elias, Johnson and Baron constitute a working piano trio, having recorded together live and in the studio. Swept Away features several numbers that showcase the trio’s special qualities, including the title track. Elias’s solo on “One Thousand and One Nights” is one of many that brim with passion and fire, showcasing her inventiveness and technical prowess in league with the rhythm section’s lithe ingenuity. Johnson laces “Inside Her Old Music Box” with an especially lyrical arco solo over impressionistic touches from piano and cymbals. Throughout the album, bassist and drummer demonstrate a kindred-spirit feel, the pair having known each other since the early ’80s. “Joey and I share a lot of the same references and rhythmic sensibilities,” he says. “I love the impetus he gives the music, how swinging he is, how creative.” Johnson points out that in one of the quartet numbers, “When the Sun Comes Up,” he anchors the quarter-note pulse while “it is Joey giving shape to the music, bobbing and weaving along with Lovano but never losing that beautiful sense of implied time.”
Lovano enters with the second track, the blue-hued, valedictory-feeling “It’s Time.” Composed by Elias as a piece both with lyrics and, as here, without, “It’s Time” is her tribute to the late saxophonist Michael Brecker. The pianist played with Brecker at the start of her career, when she was a member of Steps Ahead, and he worked with her on several projects afterward. Lovano’s playing of the addictive melody in Johnson’s “Midnight Blue” is so evocative and earthy that he seems to be blowing smoke rings into the air as much as breath into a horn. Another highlight with Lovano is “Moments,” a new interpretation of an oft-covered gem of melancholy beauty that Elias wrote when she was just 21 and that first appeared on her 1985 album Illusions. “It’s one of Eliane’s masterpieces,” insists Johnson. The bassist first met Lovano in the late-’70s Woody Herman band. “Joe has such a beautiful sound and is a consummate improviser, a player who is so quick to suss out the essence of a tune,” Johnson says. “He is amazing at portraying the character of a composition in his improvisations.” Elias adds: “As a composer, it’s very satisfying the way that Joe incorporates a melody of a piece into his improvisations and shapes it. And we had some special experiences playing on Shades of Jade and again on this album. On `Moments,’ he and I even improvised the same exact phrase at the same time, as if we were following a score.”
As they often do in conversation, Johnson and Elias sometimes complete each other’s thoughts in composition. They co-wrote “Sirens of Titan” and “Inside Her Old Music Box,” and with Johnson’s “When the Sun Comes Up,” Elias’s piano adds color and richness to the harmonies implied by his haunting melody and bass line. In the bassist’s piece “Foujita,” the impressionistic quality of the Japanese painter, after whom it’s titled, is brought to life by Elias’s touch, voicings and phrasing. Although born in very different places – the American Midwest and Brazil’s biggest city – the two grew up loving some of the same music, including the lyrical strains of Bill Evans. (Johnson eventually ended up a member of the iconic pianist’s last great trio, from 1977 to 1980. Elias recorded a recent tribute album to Evans called Something for You, with Johnson and Baron in tow.) Johnson and Elias have been making music together since the late ’80s, developing a deep affinity and understanding. “Listeners who hear us play often assume that everything is all worked out in advance,” the pianist says, “but it’s just that we feel time and harmony together.”
Marc Johnson was born in Nebraska in 1953, and he grew up in Texas. By age 19, he was working professionally with the Fort Worth Symphony, and while at North Texas State University, he played and recorded with fellow student Lyle Mays. The bassist first came to international attention in the late ’70s as a member of the last trio led by Bill Evans. Johnson’s many recording credits since then include discs with Michael Brecker, Bob Brookmeyer, Gary Burton, Jack DeJohnette, Eliane Elias, Peter Erskine, Bill Frisell, Stan Getz, Joe Lovano, Lyle Mays, Pat Metheny, Ben Monder, Paul Motian and Enrico Pieranunzi, among others. Johnson’s first ECM recordings, made in 1985, were with his own Bass Desires quartet, featuring the guitars of Frisell and John Scofield. The bassist recorded for the label as a member of John Abercrombie’s trio and appears on the guitarist’s recent discs Cat’n’Mouse and Class Trip. He has also contributed to ECM albums by guitarist Ralph Towner (Lost and Found), pianist John Taylor (Rosslyn), saxophonist Charles Lloyd (Lift Every Voice) and bandoneón master Dino Saluzzi (Cité de la Musique).
Born in São Paolo, Brazil, Eliane Elias was a child prodigy in her native country, transcribing solos of the great jazz masters by age 12 and teaching piano and improvisation at Brazil’s top school by 15. When she arrived in New York City in 1981, she astonished listeners, critics and fellow musicians alike with her pianistic fluency and charismatic stage presence. After a turn in the original acoustic line-up of Steps Ahead, she launched her starry career as a solo artist. A long line of chart-topping, Grammy Award-nominated recordings for Blue Note, RCA Victor and Concord followed, seeing her shine as both pianist and vocalist, as both an interpreter of classic Brazilian material and a composer of sophisticated, alluring original material. In 2000 appeared Impulsive!, an album of Elias’s music arranged by Bob Brookmeyer and performed by the pianist along with the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra. Elias made her ECM debut in 2005 on bassist Marc Johnson’s Shades of Jade, not only playing piano but also contributing several compositions. In 2009, EMI Japan released Eliane Elias Plays Live, featuring the pianist playing mostly standards in her trio with Johnson and drummer Joey Baron. Elias was nominated for a Grammy in 2011 for Best Brazilian Song.