The Best Of – Vol 1
(Blue Note – 2000)
by Sidney Bechet-Mandela
One of the coolest jobs in the world has got to be compiling anthologies and best of collections for record companies. But it must be a hard job when it comes to dealing with an artist you feel for deep in your heart. Putting together the best of Eliane Elias would’ve been damn near impossible for this writer, as I am biased. To me her Brazilian grooves are irresistible, and she’s taken the art of the wordless vocal to another level. She is definitely one of the best piano playing jazz vocalists out there. Her next record may not sell a million copies, but her integrity remains intact, as this sterling 14 cd collection attest to.
Fortunately, the person who put this together was smart enough to break Miss Elias very impressive Blue Note output into themes. This first one features the Brazilian’s originals, which automatically eliminates some of her best work for the label, as she as done two Jobim records, one featuring her vocal work and one featuring her at the piano. She’s also has done a great tribute to other Brazilian composers titled Paulistana, plus there are also no tracks from her duet record with Herbie Hancock.
Hancock is the American pianist who has most influenced Elias’ jazz piano style, but her inventiveness and sense of melody comes from Sao Paulo. If you’re new to Elias, this is a great introduction to her music. But there are some obvious omissions, especially, the incredibly sensuous Barefoot, from the So Far, So Close cd. In fact I could complain that that disc should’ve been represented more, as opposed to the A Long Story album.
Both So Far, So Close and A Long Story were the only two albums by Elias that smooth jazz radio ever gravitated to. A track from each cracked those tight rotations. In fact, I’m sure somewhere some NAC station still has the tune Just Kidding, which is on this compilation. However, the tune from So Far, So Close, that was acceptable to smooth jazz, Two-Way Street, was the only tune on that album that she didn’t write, so it doesn’t fit the theme of the cd, but, considering that success, shouldn’t it be part of the best of.
Also So Far, So Close, was much more a contemporary jazz record and less Brazilian, but that album was also a transition for Miss Elias, as she was primarily known in the jazz world as the keyboardist for Steps Ahead, when she first signed with Blue Note. That also is an omission of the collection. It only showcases the artist Elias developed into, but left out the great tunes that bridged her early career.
For true Eliane Elias fans, this cd is worthless, because you’re not missing anything. But for those who don’t know the wonderfully singer/pianist it’s more than worth, but could be even better. If you’re short on change, and like Brazilian music, you can do no wrong here. However, if you’ve got some bucks, and want to truly discover the progression of a great Brazilian artist, first try to find her records on Denon and Paras, then get all her Blue Note records in chronological order.