Taking in the recent loss of João Gilberto, trying to put his pervasive influence and incalculable contributions into perspective, seems just a little bit easier listening to Eliane Elias’s Love Stories. The São Paulo-reared pianist, vocalist, and composer includes only one song associated with the bossa nova patriarch, Roberto Menescal and Ronaldo Bôscoli’s “O Barquinho,” but her 27th album is an extended riff on the sumptuously becalmed orchestral bossa sound forged by arranger Claus Ogerman on 1967’s epochal Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim and Gilberto’s 1977 masterpiece Amoroso. Working most mostly in English, Elias seems to sigh rather than sing.
Intimate and sweeping, Love Stories offers a vivifying reminder of the still unplumbed depths of this particular well, and demonstrates how a master of quietude can transform just about any song into a bossa nova vehicle. Opening with Frances Lai’s “A Man and a Woman,” the eponymous theme from Claude Lelouch’s award-winning 1966 film, the album gently gathers force like a tide running back to the surf. There’s not a weak track on the album, though “Come Fly With Me” feels overly familiar even with Elias’s subtle reharmonizations and supple phrasing. Most impressive are her originals. “The Simplest Things” is a list song that feels like a kissing cousin to the best of the Bacharach/David catalog. With its sharply observed details, “The View” is an erotic idyll that puts flesh on the sensuous bossa pulse.
That perfectly calibrated pulse is sustained throughout the project by bassist Marc Johnson and a redoubtable Brazilian cast including guitarist Marcus Teixeira and drummers Edu Ribeiro, Rafael Barata, and Celso de Almeida. On his fourth collaboration with Elias, orchestrator Rob Mathes dexterously balances evocative harmonies with open space, leaving plenty of room for one of jazz’s finest pianists. Bravo!
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