“There is no point to samba if it doesn’t make you smile.” — Alma Guillermoprieto
On her album Dance of Time, Eliane Elias has given us twelve tracks of contemporary samba—samba that has shaken the burden of its history as a flirtatious, erotic dance and reinvented itself as a classy and subtle version of what we know to be a fiery creation of passion.
Influenced by “choro,” a jazz and tango marked style of music, the sounds here are slower, sexier and more seductive. Some songs make me want to dance: Speak Low, Samba De Orly and Sambou Sambou in particular have not yet failed to reach my hips, gently moving them in time to the sweet tinkle of the piano. Others are more relaxed; easier to observe and free from participation. They are songs of tipsy exhaustion. I don’t need to dance at this party, I’m just content to watch others as I pull my shoes from my weary feet, the last sips of wine gently kissing my temples, my body sinking into heavy contentment. It is dreamy, drift away music, like Little Paradise. Its existence both captivates and relaxes.
“I can’t always work out whether I am in a dark jazz club in Manhattan’s Lower East Side or dancing in Copacabana, and I like it that way.”
Made in Brazil, these tunes are coloured with the vibrancy so frequently associated with the home of both album and artist. But they also give a gentle nod to Elias’s other home, New York. Starting with the joyful O Pato, the album is infused with sounds of the city from start to finish; from the beebops and licks to the riffs and scales. I can’t always work out whether I am in a dark jazz club in Manhattan’s Lower East Side or dancing in Copacabana, and I like it that way.
Dance is a prevalent part of the Brazilian identity; it is a means of expression more commonly used and tapped into than in many Anglo-Saxon cultures. It is also a creation more equal and available than other art forms. It transcends language, class and cultural barriers. The samba in particular is native to this country and this album draws on the history of lust and sex so prevalent with the dance. Its mature take on samba sounds reflects a modern Brazil, a Brazil still establishing and rediscovering its global identity; one which spans beyond its personality of excellent soccer players, political unrest and a non-stop party lifestyle.
“The listener can hear the streets of Brazil, electric and pulsing in each song. I can picture people dancing on the street, or at a bar, or around a dining room; the songs have no home, but Brazil is at home within them.”
Eliane was born in Sao Paolo and established herself as a lead jazz musician in her hometown before moving to New York. In this album, the sounds of her two homes symphonise, but pride in her birthplace is evident throughout each melody. The listener can hear the streets of Brazil, electric and pulsing in each song. I can picture people dancing on the street, or at a bar, or around a dining room; the songs have no home, but Brazil is at home within them. Elias has made just a few albums outside of the US, so the creation of Made in Time is a welcomed addition to her overflowing catalogue.
Written predominantly in Portuguese, Habit with Me is one of the few songs sung in English. Lyrically, the song plays like silk, and speaks to the insatiable attractiveness of the dance. The album benefits from the inclusion of several guest artists, each welcomed with their own musical flair. Elias’s ex-husband Randy Brecker makes an appearance in the instrumental line up as a trumpeter. The arrangement of the track list is well considered. Rhythmically, it treats the listener to a balanced sensory experience, moving smoothly between light, celebratory tracks and those that are more nuanced and deeply heartfelt. Its tempo feels more in keeping with regular jazz, as opposed to the fast, commercial samba I am so accustomed to.
With over 20 albums already under her belt, Elias’s musicianship is second to none. Her piano skills are impeccable, leaving no room for error but plenty for improvisation. Her voice is smooth and soothing and seamlessly weaves with the unpredictable nature of jazz. It lends space to her instruments and vice versa. She is a master of her craft and she can handle the classics, but she has chosen new and bold songs for this album. Songs that tip their hat to the origins of the samba and signpost the future of it.
Made in Time by Eliane Elias, 2017, Brazil