Since the mid-1980s, pianist/vocalist Eliane Elias (pronounced eh-lee-AH-neh eh-LEE-ahs) has grafted various elements of jazz, pop, soul and other styles to her deep Brazilian roots to create a hybrid groove that exists comfortably on any hemisphere. Borrowing from an array of sources and singing in a variety of languages, Elias consistently forges a sound that appeals to listeners of every geographic locale and cultural persuasion.
Her new album, Light My Fire – set for a May 31, 2011, release on Concord Picante, a division of Concord Music Group – wields this universal sound to explore the various corners of the human heart – from romance and passion to the shared joy of being alive and embracing everyone into the dance of life. Along with four compositions written or co-written by Elias herself, the album also includes covers of familiar works by songwriters as diverse as Jim Morrison and the Doors, pop icon Stevie Wonder and jazz saxophonist Paul Desmond. Elias weaves it all together into a cohesive whole by injecting each of the twelve songs with distinctly Brazilian grooves that alternate effortlessly between the fiery and passionate to the cool and sophisticated.
“Some of the tunes are cool and laid back, but others are quite rhythmic and joyful,” says Elias. “And they have some different grooves. I tend to gravitate toward romance – beautiful melodies, beautiful harmonies and rhythms with a great feel. But more than anything else, I’m singing about love on this record in its different aspects and dimensions.”
Backing Elias on Light My Fire is a crew of twelve high-caliber players, including special guests guitarist/vocalist Gilberto Gil and trumpeter Randy Brecker. The rhythm section – which has accompanied Elias on several of her most recent recordings – includes guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Paulo Braga. Also on hand to sing with Elias and Gil on “Toda Menina Baiana” is Elias’ daughter, singer-songwriter Amanda Brecker. New to Elias’ team is percussionist Marivaldo dos Santos, drummer Rafael Barata, guitarists Romero Lubambo and Ross Traut, and flutist Lawrence Feldman.
“I’ve made more than 20 records in my career,” says Elias. “I’m proud of all of them, but I’m especially excited about this one,” says Elias. “It feels like it has a life and an energy all its own. With very few exceptions, nearly all of the songs were first takes. Everybody in the studio was so focused, and it was such a fun record to make. The music was really flowing, and we all felt very relaxed. From the very first day, not a note was wasted by anyone. It was an amazing experience.”
That sense of effortlessness is evident from the opening bars of “Rosa Morena,” a song whose lyrics ask: “Where are you going? Why don’t you come and join us?” One of many songs on the album sung in Portuguese, the song is essentially an invitation for everything that is to follow. “It starts with a little bit of light percussion,” says Elias, “then gradually builds, adding layers of instruments until the end. A couple songs were arranged in this way, where I varied the density of the sound within the same tune. I was mindful of treating each song with somewhat different levels of transparency, which I think has a way of inviting the listener in and holding one’s interest. Joe Ferla, my recording and mixing engineer, further enhances this intention with his beautiful 3D mixes.”
The stirring “Aquele Abraço,” written by Gilberto Gil and inspired by his political exile in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, is a song about being willing to send love out to everyone and everything despite challenging circumstances. “Gilberto was first put in jail for months, and then he was sent out of the country,” says Elias. “When he was leaving, he wrote this song, recalling Rio de Janeiro and those he left behind.”
The intriguing covers include the title track, a slow and sexy Brazilian version of the Doors’ churning 1967 rock hit; a sensual take on the classic Stevie Wonder ballad, “My Cherie Amour;” and a slinky vocalese rendition of saxophonist Paul Desmond’s jazz classic, “Take Five,” first made famous by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1959. “I didn’t just follow the original version note for note,” Elias says of the Desmond tune. “I created another section, a development section to replace the traditional ‘blowing chorus.’”
“Isto Aqui O Que É” reveals Elias’ beautiful voice in its most intimate setting on the album. “The song says, ‘This here is a little bit of Brazil, a Brazil that sings and is happy, and its people are not afraid, and they do not give up in the face of hardship.’ The song is a kind of anthem. The arrangement builds slowly, and the song eventually grows into a full sound. It’s so representative of what the lyrics say and what the Brazilian people are about.”
“Turn To Me (Samba Maracatú)” was co-written in 1988 by Elias and popular Brazilian composer Gonzaguinha, who passed away a few years later in 1991. In the world premiere of this song, Gilberto Gil, who was highly influenced by Gonzaguinha’s father, Luiz Gonzaga, steps in and shares the vocals as a tribute to the revered composer.
“What About the Heart (Bate Bate),” another of Elias’ original compositions, relates one person’s desire to rekindle the passion and romance in a relationship that has become routine and complacent. “‘Bate Bate’ (pronounced ‘baht-chi baht-chi’) is the sound of a quietly beating heart,” says Elias. “It asks the question, ‘What about the heart?’ In the end, it’s all about the heart.” In September 2011, “What about the Heart (Bate Bate)” was nominated for a Latin GRAMMY® in the category of Best Brazilian Song.
Says Elias, “I’m very excited about the music on this album. I think it’s cool, sexy and fun. This recording is the truest expression of what I’m doing right now, and it represents very closely what people hear me doing live in concert. I hope this music brings some romantic, joyful and heartfelt moments to those who hear it.”