Eliane Elias at the Montreal Jazz Festival

Eliane Elias enjoys a reputation as a musician who can swing as convincingly as she can samba, and she did not disappoint the crowd who filled Montreal’s Monument National for what was, by her count, her tenth appearance at the jazz festival. Originally from Sao Paolo, Elias was only 17 years old when legendary Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim discovered her playing in a local club and immediately invited her to join his international tour. Last year, Elias returned to Brazil to record her latest album, aptly named Made in Brazil, which pays tribute to the Brazilian songbook of which Jobim was the lead exponent.

Elias’ concert on Friday, July 3rd featured music from Made in Brazil (including Ary Barroso’s “Aqualera do Brasil”) as well as several other Brazilian standards by Jobim and Gilberto Gil (such as “Chega de Saudade” and “Desafinado”). Elias was intent on paying tribute to the composers and the significance of their songs, putting each piece in historical context before it was played. Elias also got up from the piano to sing a version of Dorival Caymmi’s “Rosa Morena” from centre stage.

Three other musicians joined Elias onstage: her husband, bassist Marc Johnson (who played in Bill Evans’ trio for the last three years of Evans’ life), laid down several formidable bass solos and captivated the crowd with his bowed melodies. Drummer Mauricio Zottarelli energized the audience with several lengthy, theatrical drum solos while guitarist Reubens de la Corte played the consummate sideman, deepening the music’s groove when he was playing but also happy to step offstage for sections, leaving Elias to play as a piano trio. The band was tight and well rehearsed, particularly during the endings of songs, which were often the flashiest and most impressive part of the arrangements.

The audience seemed to love the concert, audibly responding to Elias when she introduced the pieces and enthusiastically singing along with the encore, “Girl from Ipanema”. Elias has been extremely successful in finding a niche between musical labels: as both a pianist and a vocalist, and as a musician able to convey the history of swing as well as the history of Brazilian music. Elias’ ability to fill so many roles is testimony to her extraordinary talent, and her performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival was a reminder that she is, as much as ever, a force to be reckoned with.