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Review: Eliane Elias lights a fire on new CD

Eliane Elias, “Light My Fire” (Concord Picante)

Eliane Elias stands out from other Brazilian singers because she not only has a deep-rooted feel for the rhythms of her native land but also is fluent in the American jazz idiom after spending some 30 years in the United States.

“Light My Fire” showcases her talents as a four-tool player — singer, pianist, arranger and songwriter — with a romantic collection of classic Brazilian songs, American pop and jazz standards set to Brazilian grooves, and original tunes. She’s supported by top flight Brazilian and American musicians, including her rhythm section of guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, drummer Paulo Braga and her husband, bassist Marc Johnson.

Elias turns her attention beyond bossa nova to the hot Afro-Caribbean rhythms of Brazil’s northern Bahia region, opening with a percussive arrangement of Dorival Caymmi’s “Rosa Morena.” Several tracks mark her first-ever recordings with legendary guitarist-vocalist Gilberto Gil, with the two engaging in some intricate and exuberant vocal interplay on Gil’s uptempo bossa nova “Aquele Abraco” and his Afro-beat-inflected “Toda Menina Baiana.”

She turns down the heat to a sensual simmer on the Brazilian-flavored American covers — including a breezy rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” with her piano deftly accenting her vocals and a slow, alluring bossa nova version of “Light My Fire” that smoothes out the rough edges of the original by Jim Morrison and The Doors.

Elias’ personal Brazilian jazz blend shines through on her own compositions with lyrics in both Portuguese and English — particularly the dreamily romantic ballad “Made in Moonlight” and the passionate and pulsating “What About the Heart (Bate Bate),” which closes this appealing CD that’s a fitting soundtrack for warm summer nights.

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: On “Take Five,” Elias offers a strikingly original take on Dave Brubeck Quartet saxophonist Paul Desmond’s odd-metered jazz classic with her cool, breathy wordless vocals accompanied by ex-husband Randy Brecker’s muted trumpet.

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