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Marc Johnson, Eliane Elias, Joey Baron & Joe Lovano

Double bassist Marc Johnson, pianist Eliane Elias, drummer Joey Baron and saxophonist Joe Lovano commune in music-making that is engaging, sensuous, poetic, and swinging. There is also a spacious feel to “Swept Away” which stems from the environment in which much of it was written, the home Johnson and Elias share in the Hamptons, New York. “I’ve written music in the bustle of Manhattan, on airplanes, every hectic sort of place,” Elias says. “But we have a very different sort of relationship to sound out there, one that finds its way into the feel of the writing.” Johnson adds: “There is definitely a feeling of quietude and space there that is inspiring for us. Nature is closer, and you can really see the changing of seasons. I think you can hear it in the music’s openness and lyricism.” 

The album emphasises melody-rich Elias compositions, ranging from the easy-flowing lyricism of “B Is for Butterfly” to the romanticism of “Moments”. Elias’s rocking, Eastern-tinged “One Thousand and One Nights” is a highlight, as is Johnson’s evocation of after-hours atmosphere, “Midnight Blue”. The album closes with the bassist’s solo treatment of the old American folk song “Shenandoah,” a poignant remembrance of his family from the Midwest. 

On their own, Elias, Johnson and Baron constitute a working piano trio, having recorded together live and in the studio. Throughout the album, bassist and drummer demonstrate a kindred-spirit feel, the pair having known each other since the early ’80s. “Joey and I share a lot of the same references and rhythmic sensibilities,” Johnson says. “I love the impetus he gives the music, how swinging he is, how creative.” Marc points out that in “When the Sun Comes Up,” he anchors the quarter-note pulse while “it is Joey giving shape to the music, bobbing and weaving along with Lovano but never losing that beautiful sense of implied time.”

Lovano enters with the second track, the blue-hued, valedictory-feeling “It’s Time.” Elias’s tribute to the late Michael Brecker. The pianist played with Brecker at the start of her career, when she was a member of Steps Ahead, and he worked with her on several projects afterward. 

Marc Johnson first met Lovano in the late-’70s Woody Herman band. “Joe has such a beautiful sound and is a consummate improviser, a player who is so quick to suss out the essence of a tune. He is amazing at portraying the character of a composition in his improvisations.” Elias adds: “As a composer, it’s very satisfying the way that Joe incorporates a melody of a piece into his improvisations and shapes it. And we had some special experiences playing on Shades of Jade and again on this album. On `Moments,’ he and I even improvised the same exact phrase at the same time, as if we were following a score.”

As they often do in conversation, Johnson and Elias sometimes complete each other’s thoughts in composition. They co-wrote “Sirens of Titan” and “Inside Her Old Music Box,” and with Johnson’s “When the Sun Comes Up,” Elias’s piano adds colour and richness to the harmonies implied by his haunting melody and bass line. In the bassist’s piece “Foujita,” the impressionistic quality of the Japanese painter, after whom it’s titled, is brought to life by Elias’s touch, voicings and phrasing. Although born in very different places – the American Midwest and Brazil’s biggest city – the two grew up loving some of the same music, including the lyrical strains of Bill Evans. Johnson and Elias have been making music together since the late ’80s, developing a deep affinity and understanding. “Listeners who hear us play often assume that everything is all worked out in advance,” the pianist says, “but it’s just that we feel time and harmony together.”

Marc Johnson was born in Nebraska in 1953, and he grew up in Texas. By age 19, he was working professionally with the Fort Worth Symphony, and while at North Texas State University, he played and recorded with fellow student Lyle Mays. The bassist first came to international attention in the late ’70s as a member of the last trio led by Bill Evans. Johnson’s many recording credits since then include discs with Michael Brecker, Bob Brookmeyer, Gary Burton, Jack DeJohnette, Eliane Elias, Peter Erskine, Bill Frisell, Stan Getz, Joe Lovano, Lyle Mays, Pat Metheny, Ben Monder, Paul Motian and Enrico Pieranunzi, among others. Johnson’s first ECM recordings, made in 1985, were with his own Bass Desires quartet, featuring the guitars of Frisell and John Scofield. The bassist recorded for the label as a member of John Abercrombie’s trio and appears on the guitarist’s recent discs Cat’n’Mouse and Class Trip. He has also contributed to ECM albums by guitarist Ralph Towner (Lost and Found), pianist John Taylor (Rosslyn), saxophonist Charles Lloyd (Lift Every Voice) and bandoneón master Dino Saluzzi (Cité de la Musique).

Born in São Paolo, Brazil, Eliane Elias was a child prodigy in her native country, transcribing solos of the great jazz masters by age 12 and teaching piano and improvisation at Brazil’s top school by 15. When she arrived in New York City in 1981, she impressed listeners, critics and fellow musicians alike with her pianistic fluency and charismatic stage presence. After a turn in the original acoustic line-up of Steps Ahead, she launched her career as a solo artist. A long line of recordings for Blue Note, RCA Victor and Concord followed, as both pianist and vocalist, interpreter of classic Brazilian material and a composer of original material. Elias made her ECM debut in 2005 on bassist Marc Johnson’s Shades of Jade, not only playing piano but also contributing several compositions.

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