I Thought About YouConcord Picante CJA-34191-02
Format: CD

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****

Eliane Elias says, of her new disc, “I Thought About You was inspired by Chet Baker and in that sense it is a tribute to Chet, it was a natural fit for me to play, to sing music inspired by Chet because I am an instrumentalist and a singer, as Chet was.” Baker’s singing was sometimes close to a whisper, with a relaxed ease and a playful sense of time. The 14 tunes Elias chose for this disc are songs Baker covered over the years, and most are standards. She hasn’t simply performed them as Baker did, however. Instead, his spirit infuses the tracks with the cool precision he brought to both his singing and his trumpet playing.

One of the charms of I Thought About You is Elias’s Brazilian accent, which, along with the confident sexiness of her singing, underlines these songs’ romanticism. Baker, by contrast, sang with a vulnerability that gave him a different appeal -- especially, I’d venture, for women. What the singers share is a sense of restraint and an instinct about what to emphasize in a lyric. Elias also has Baker’s improvisational talent, and her tasteful, swinging piano playing is a constant delight throughout. Her solo in the title track shows a natural feel for the blues, which guitarist Steve Cardenas carries over into his solo.

While Elias gives a cool jazz spin to most of the tracks, to several others she brings a strong hint of bossa nova. “Let’s Get Lost” is especially effective given that approach, and the Brazilian musicians Elias uses in this track, including guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, help her sell it, as they do with “Embraceable You” and “There Will Never Be Another You.” Elias’s bluesy solo in “Embraceable You” locks together unexpectedly well with her bossa nova arrangement.

Randy Brecker guests on “There Will Never Be Another You,” and in another example of genre bending, Elias’s arrangement segues smoothly from bossa nova to jazz for his trumpet solo. Brecker evokes Baker’s natural feel for melody there and in his appearances in “That Old Feeling” and “Just Friends.” His light touch brings the connection to Baker into greater focus.

Steve Cardenas accompanies Elias in “Everything Depends on You,” and keeping the arrangement to two instruments gives the song a late-night, closing-down-the-bar feeling. “Blue Room” opens with just Marc Johnson’s bass and Elias’s voice, her piano entering to solo only halfway through. Both tracks are typical of the spacious sound on this disc, where even tracks featuring a full band leave space for each instrument to breathe. Elias shares solo time generously, and her own high standards inspire good work from the other musicians. Her solo in a swift version of “Just in Time” is a model of speed, elegance, and melody.

Elias is a smart, witty singer who brings something fresh to songs that have been interpreted many times by jazz singers. She upends the dated lyrics of “Girl Talk” with a slightly tongue-in-cheek reading, and even in the headlong rush of words of “Just in Time” she never loses touch with the meaning of the lyric. Her playing is impeccable and exciting on I Thought About You, her singing passionate, her arrangements fresh. She’s recorded a lot of good discs, but none better than this.

. . . Joseph Taylor