TD Toronto JazzFest 2013: Eliane Elias Trio with Bill McBirnie & Bernie Senensky Duo

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Brasileiro / Brasileira  –  Toronto Jazz Festival,  Old Mill Inn, June 22, 2013

Festival Report by Paul J. Youngman

Warming up a room like the Old Mill can be a challenge when opening for an international jazz superstar the likes of Eliane Elias, for Bill McBirnie & Bernie Senensky it was a chance to reminisce.

The Paco Paco recording on McBirnie’s Extreme Flute Label (2006) had the duet performing with exceptional simpatico. McBirnie and Senensky re-created that same feeling as they explored great Brazilian Bossa rhythms. “Minha Saudade” opened, an upbeat and swinging tune with flute blowing hard and virtually ripping lines down the walls. This was a head turning performance that had every one interested and built upon the expectation of greatness to come.

Upon completion and in the spirit of interchange with the audience McBirnie allowed a lapse and some of the audience went back to dinning room chatter. McBirnie’s rendition of John Coltrane’s “Like Sonny” is one of the most pleasing versions I’ve heard. The flute sings the lines with fluid phrasing that pulses Latin festive flavour and straight ahead jazz swing. Senensky plays percussively filling in and rounding out the song with punchy chords and free flowing runs. The duet would follow the ballad with another Bossa tune that lifted the spirit, a Senensky original “Lolito’s Theme”, the duet would also samba through “O Grande Amor” and “Samba Do Borboleta”  before the grand finale of the Senensky original “Paco Paco” at this point in the concert most of the audience came to realize that they were already in the presence of greatness.

Eliane Elias Trio

Eliane Elias is very image-conscious, I recall her last visit to Toronto as part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival in 2009, and she actually stopped in the middle of a song to reprimand a member of the audience whom was making a video, obviously un-licensed.

To open the Old Mill Inn concert an announcement was made that no photography would be allowed for the performance. In respect of the artist wishes no photographs were taken for Eliane Elias, pictured in our article is the flutist Bill McBirnie who opened for Elias, the photo taken by award winning photographer Don Vickery high lights the intensity and focus of a master flutist.

Eliane Elias was not playing all Brazilian standards although she can not escape playing her style of jazz that blends Bossa and jazz so elegantly. Elias is a fine pianist who can sing with a pleasing accented voice that is a beautiful instrument on its own. She was joined on stage by bassist Marc Johnson and guitarist Steve Cardenas. The show started with an instrumental rendition of “You The Night And The Music” her version is up tempo and swings hard. The piano is brought out to the front as lead instrument and you are quickly reminded that Elias is first and foremost a jazz pianist of the highest standard.

After her opening number she mentioned the fact that her new album is half with drums and half with out. The album she was referring to, I Thought About You (A Tribute to Chet Baker) (Concord, 2013). We were witnessing the half with out, although each member of the trio played with a percussive style and the drummer was not missed.

The Chet Baker song book was touched upon as versions of “This Can’t Be Love”, “I Thought About You” and “There Will Never Be Another You” was given new life as Bossa inspired tunes that for the most part brought out a joyful spirit to the performance. The dinner audience seemed very attentive and appreciative of the energy and spirit that the musicians exuded. Elias had some fun with the audience on a trippy tune named “Stairway To The 9th Dimension” when the band veered from the swinging, marching blues and went off in different eerie directions the audience was to clap to indicate they had found the 9th dimension, this occurred three times during the song, the third and final time to end the song.

For me Elias’s rendition of the songs “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”, “So Danco Samba”, “Everything Depends On You” and “Just In Time”  were all done with heartfelt passion that made me want to go out in the lobby and buy an album or two. It’s not just Elias, her singing and her playing is the real deal but her accompanists put the performance on another level. The bassist Marc Johnson, who has been with her for 27 years, is one of the all time great jazz bassists. Steve Cardenas is an excellent jazz guitar player, he has played with every major player and his take on rhythm is as good as it gets, when he solos or takes the lead it is an ear raising experience that captures ones attention.

Upon the shows finale and after a spirited and festive encore tune, the band departed. I made my way to the lobby only to find a huge line up of fans awaiting autographs and CD’s for sale. And behind the merchandise table, Eliane Elias and Marc Johnson. Oh well maybe another time.

*Photo of Bill McBirnie by Don Vickery