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This Time on EARS NEW YORK, Jeff reviews Eliane Elias' current record "Light My Fire" and Hiromi's "Voice"


At times Hiromi’s talent takes on a larger-than-life visage and she becomes her own Lichtenstein canvas – newsprint dots, comic strip thought bubbles, oversized everything. Even her music flirts with the urgency instilled in those pop art wonderworks ("I DON'T CARE! I'D RATHER SINK THAN CALL BRAD FOR HELP!")

This is not meant to marginalize Hiromi, but to underscore the fact that she breathes rarified air. Among jazz pianists she bursts with bigness.

On Voice Hiromi returns to a trio format with crankshaft musicians Anthony Jackson (bass) and Simon Phillips (drums) who enable her stunning play. Spanning nine tracks - each one a keeper - Hiromi sashays from ethereal to complex, seamlessly controlling dynamcs and mood, building on keyboard motifs and group exchanges that place her on a sliding scale between merely engaging and riveting.

Singling out tracks here might be construed a fool’s game, though my favorites include “Temptation,” “Labyrinth,” “Now or Never,” and “Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8.”

At her most daunting Hiromi channels pianists as diverse as Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Jerry Lee Lewis and Glenn Gould - iconoclasts with clarity, focus and the chops to enact all. She’s that good.

As a result she stands at the crossroads of Art, Entertainment, Show Business and Talent. Is she ready for Cirque du Soleil? Hanging from a trapeze, a Steinway clenched between her teeth, spinning, hypnotic, the greatest aerobatic pianist on earth?

Probably not yet. But stay tuned. In the meantime, there’s Voice.

Light My Fire
Concord Picante

Drawing from a deep well of composers - Paul Desmond, Stevie Wonder, Dorival Caymmi and Jim Morrison, among them - Brazilian pianist and singer Eliane Elias has crafted a winning tableau, an afterhours excursion, moody and lyrical. Light My Fire is an amber-hued record revealing Elias's penchant for simple arrangements and affecting vocals. Not unlike Karrin Allyson's Round Midnight, detailed in last month's Ears New York, Elias conveys authority through close micing. She shapes the contours of her songs with a firm hand. Her's is a breathy style - cool, understated, intimate - delivered with the effortless air of a balloon tracing a tradewind.

Aided by Oscar Castro-Neves, Giberto Gil, and Randy Brecker, she showcases a knowing touch on the keyboard, using economically drawn lines to punctuate and embellish heartfelt narratives. This sensuous coupling of voice and keys - elements smartly complementary - signals Elias's arrival as a record-maker with a vision, her talents finally interlocking with puzzle precision.

Standout tracks include "Take Five," imaginatively deconstructed to create a tropical travelog; her own "Made In Moonlight," crafted with jazzy concision; and the title track, which adds a bed of smoldering embers to the Door’s anthem of AOR radio.

Elias’s career spans 20-plus recordings. Light My Fire, a warm-glow treatise on sensuous expression, might be her most artful effort to date.

altJeff Levenson is a label executive, writer-producer, and jazz journalist. His affiliations include posts at Half Note, Sony, Warner Bros, Downbeat and Billboard. He currently produces the annual Thelonious Monk Instrumental Competition, and has authored and/or produced events for the NEA, the US State Department, the White House, the New School for Social Research and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. His credits include collaborations with Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Bela Fleck, Arturo Sandoval, and McCoy Tyner. He has produced and/or supervised six Grammy albums - 2 winners, 4 nominees. He currently chairs the National Jazz Committee for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, serves as Board Governor for its New York Chapter, and digs the company of jazz musicians.

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