Eliane Elias occasionally needs to remind us that, back in the ’80s when she was a member of Steps Ahead, before she ever laid down a vocal track, she had already established herself as a resourceful and dynamic pianist. On Swept Away, the vocal mic remains off and the Brazilian-born Elias-aligned with double bassist Marc Johnson (her husband and longtime collaborator), drummer Joey Baron (with whom both Elias and Johnson recorded a tribute to Bill Evans in 2007) and guest tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano-offers that reminder.
The trio tracks are especially riveting; Johnson and Baron erect a solid wall of support around Elias’ frequent, heady expeditions, within which they shrewdly follow her lead and goad her, often simultaneously. For her part, Elias never strays into indulgence, alternating between unadorned blues-based runs and abruptly launched forays played at dazzling tempos. Lovano’s tracks-he’s on about half the album-alter the mood, as one would expect, but the overall level of compatibility remains intact.
The temperature changes often. “One Thousand and One Nights,” one of the more aggressive trio tracks, as rhythmically dramatic as flamenco, practically rocks, Baron picking up on Elias’ already luminous solo and kicking into a straight 4/4. On both sides of that tune are more languid Lovano vehicles: “It’s Time,” with its midnight ambience, is Elias’ tribute to the late Michael Brecker, a fellow member of Steps Ahead; she and Lovano exchange pleasantries before catching a groove, and it’s easy enough to imagine Brecker finding his place therein. Elias sits out most of Johnson’s brooding “When the Sun Comes Up,” the sax-bass-drums trio taking it slow until she jumps in and brings it to a boil.
Although Johnson shares top billing with Elias, his role is largely confined to locking in with Baron and too infrequently unfurling a faultlessly framed solo (his arco on “Inside Her Old Music Box” is sumptuously symphonic). But the final track, the traditional folk song “Shenandoah,” is all his, full of open spaces and melodic imagination.