The best of Eliane Elias: Five albums by the pride of Brazilian jazz

Multiple Grammy-winning pianist, singer, composer and arranger Eliane Elias is one of Brazil’s most successful and respected jazz artists.

Elias started her professional career at 17 when she began working with Brazilian singer-songwriter Toquinho and touring with the literary giant Vinicius de Moraes. Moving to New York in 1981, she attended the Julliard School of Music and a few years later released her debut album Amanda, a collaboration with her then-husband Randy Brecker that’s named after their daughter.

Since then, Elias has recorded and released nearly 30 albums while working with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Steve Gadd, Stanley Clarke, Eddie Gomes, Peter Erskine, Eumir Deodato and Earl Klugh, among many others. She was also featured in Calle 54, the 2000 documentary film about Latin jazz by Oscar-winning Spanish director Fernando Trueba.

Elias remains at the forefront of Brazilian musical culture. Her 2015 album Made in Brazil and her 2017 album Dance of Time both debuted at No. 1 on iTunes in seven countries and won the Grammy Award for best Latin jazz album of the year.

Here are five essential Eliane Elias albums that are guaranteed to relax and inspire you.

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Something for You: Eliane Elias Sings & Plays Bill Evans (2008)

This highly acclaimed collection is Elias’s tribute to Bill Evans, who was an influence and inspiration especially in her developmental years. The album includes Evans compositions such as I Love My Wife, standards he recorded, and some Elias originals. It also features two pieces recently discovered by her husband, bassist Marc Johnson. Evans had given him a cassette just before his passing with two undiscovered gems: Evanesque and Here Is Something for You. Elias sings on six of the tracks and wrote lyrics to Here Is Something for You, which she recreated from Evans’s original cassette version. Throughout the album, Elias never sounds like an imitator; she brilliantly uses Evans as a launchpad for her arrangements.

Bossa Nova Stories (2008)

Released on the 50th anniversary of the bossa nova music style, this album is especially close to my heart. It has become a staple for me, thanks to the subtle arrangements, the silky vocal interpretations, and the beautifully spare and occasionally groovy piano. Bossa nova was and is all about simplicity, and this album is goosebump-worthy. Bossa Nova Stories features essential bossa nova standards along with some bossa-fied American jazz standards. Marc Johnson’s bass is an ideal complement, and guests such as Toots Thielemans and Ivan Lins on I’m Not Alone spice up the experience.

I Thought About You (2013)

This album is a tribute to jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, released on the 25th anniversary of his death. I Thought About You features arrangements running the gamut of bossa nova, swing, jazz and blues, and it features Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn. Of the many tributes released that year, this one stands out for its elegant arrangements and fabulous performances.

Made in Brazil (2015)

This was Eliane Elias’s first album in 30 years to be recorded in her home country of Brazil. Made in Brazil is an instant classic that won the Grammy Award for best Latin jazz album of the year. The record includes six of Elias’s original compositions along with Brazilian standards, including Aquarela do Brasil and Águas de Março, two of my all-time favourites. In a review, Eric Ford of LondonJazz called the album “a subtle masterclass in phrasing, groove, taste, rhythmic suppleness, harmonic sophistication and songwriting.” Do yourself a favour and give this one a permanent home in your collection.

Dance of Time (2017)

With Dance of Time, Elias proves she is only getting better with time. Recorded in São Paulo, this album celebrates the samba and features Brecker, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and Brazilian guitarist João Bosco. Classic sambas, as well as modern and original compositions, are brilliantly presented and arranged. Elias’s trademark vocal sensuality and her highly skilled improvisational skills made this album another Grammy winner. It’s an album that’s worth revisiting again and again.