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Album review: Eliane Elias' 'Bossa Nova Stories'

January 12, 2009 |  6:21 pm

Eliane_elias_240_ This Brazilian-born, New York-based singer-pianist has spent much of the last two decades minimizing the distance between the jazz and pop of her homeland with that of her adopted country. (Her gorgeous reading of Burt Bacharach's "A House Is Not a Home" from 2004's "Dreamer" is proof that a tricky melody is only improved by a tricky rhythm.)

A sort of reverse-image companion to 2007's "Something for You: Eliane Elias Sings & Plays Bill Evans," "Bossa Nova Stories" seems to approach that stylistic equation from a more distinct angle than is typical for Elias: The new set opens with "The Girl From Ipanema," as clear a suggestion as any that we're in for an exercise in roots music.

Yet the appealing result is less straightforward than it first appears; in Elias' view, tradition needn't stifle the will to renovate. Here she refreshes the Gershwins' "They Can't Take That Away From Me" with a deliciously soft-pedaled groove, while Stevie Wonder's "Superwoman" gets a tasty piano-bar make-under.

In contrast, Elias envelops some of the Brazilian material, including "Desafinado," with lush Old Hollywood string arrangements that emphasize its drama rather than its delicacy.

A sophisticated pleasure.

-Mikeal Wood

Eliane Elias
"Bossa Nova Stories"
* * * (three stars)