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Review: Elias shows off exceptional vocal, instrumental skills with sidemen

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Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, 11:38 p.m.

Few performers in jazz blend instrumental and vocal skills as well as Eliane Elias.

Many are well known for that effort, but generally one skill stands out. While his voice has won him Grammy awards, George Benson's guitar skills are the summit of his talents.

But Eliane Elias showed Friday evening at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, she sings as well as she plays. In doing both, she never loses track of her Brazilian heritage. Songs such as "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and even the Doors' "Light My Fire" took on a bit of Bahia.

Her musical skills were not the only element of equality on stage. The work of her sidemen, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Rafael Barata, matched hers and a times became the focus of the concert.

Johnson, who has a storied jazz career, stood out almost immediately on his upright electric bass. But Barata seemed charged by the proceedings and by the time the trio was working on the Brazilian classic, "The Frog," he was a demon. He laid down a forceful and complex solo that never strayed from the ethnic feeling of the work.

That solo seemed to propel him into one on "Light My Fire" in which he created sharp ringing tones from striking the edges of his cymbals with his sticks and then contrasting that to deep tones from his mallets.

"Light My Fire," which was done in a bluesy tint, led to the faster "Catching Fire" which gave Johnson one of his best solos of the night. With remarkable dexterity he created brisk chromatic patterns that stepped down steadily.

But Elias was the star of the two shows at the North Side site. She not only offered great piano playing both in stating the songs, but also in crafting energetic and creative solos. Her current album, "Swept Away," is an all-instrumental offering and she played from it "B is for Butterfly." That tune opens in an easy-going, Vince Guaraldi-like fashion, before becoming more demanding in her explorations.

All of her songs seemed to offer both sides of her talents. For instance, "Banana Tree" by Gilberto Gil was structured around its existence as a song. But not only did she sing the lyrics in her nicely controlled voice, but she offered a well stated piano solo that explored the melody.

Her instrumental intros into song also were inviting. In "They Can't Take That Away From Me," for instance, she offered hints of what was to come without giving it away much.

The best piece of the first set, however, was "Desifinado," which included great work form Elias and the best drum work of the evening form Barata. But the best part was on a slowed middle section in which Johnson offered a bowed solo that was as beautiful in its tone as it was its conception.

Elias's daughter, Amanda Brecker, whose father is trumpet great Randy Brecker, joined the evening for a duet with Elias on "So Danco Samba."

The concert never faltered in its wealth.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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