Anat Cohen and Eliane Elias previews: double dose of Brazilian jazz

Two PDXJazz concerts this week showcase fruitful combinations of Brazilian and American music

By ANGELA ALLEN 

Fifty-seven years after the birth of bossa nova, Brazilian music continues to stir up listeners with its danceable rhythms, beguiling melodies, and sweet soft Portuguese lyrics. In less than a week, Portlanders will have the chance to hear radically different styles of buoyant Brazilian jazz from two popular artists.

Eliane Elias. Photo: Daniel Azoulay.

Anat Cohen and Eliane Elias are as versatile as their music is varied. Elias sings and plays piano; Cohen plays clarinet and saxophone, though the clarinet will take the lead for this concert. Composers and arrangers as well as performers, both artists are admired for their energetic and appealing stage presences; they usually have audiences on their feet, begging for more.

Both sell out their concerts when they visit Portland (and Elias anywhere she goes, including Japan and London). Cohen plays with Trio Brasileiro May 4 at the Old Church, and Elias performs May 9 at Winningstad Theatre, a venue she filled in 2016 at the PDX Jazz Festival. Both shows are nearly sold out.

Expect to hear lots of cuts from their new releases, including Cohen’s Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos with guitarist Marcello Goncalves and Rosa Dos Ventos (Wind Rose), recorded with Trio Brasileiro, whom she’ll play with at the Portland gig. Elias’s latest album, Dance of Time, released earlier this spring, is a tribute to the samba.

Anat Cohen: Beguiled by Brazil

Named Clarinetist of the Year for nine straight years by the Jazz Journalist Association, virtuosa clarinetist Cohen lives in New York and grew up in Israel with her musician brothers, saxophonist Yuval and trumpeter Avishai. In the last several years, Brazilian choro music stole her heart. “I disappear inside choro,” Cohen said from New York City earlier this spring. “I am completely in love with it.”

Anat Cohen & Trio Brasileiro perform at Portland Old Church Thursday.

Choro, translated as “cry” or “lament,” is considered the first urban music of Brazil, originating in Rio de Janeiro in the late 19th century. The music usually has a fast upbeat tempo and leaves plenty of room for improvisation. “As a clarinetist, I can be the soloist or join in the counterpoint with the 7-string guitar,” she explains. “As with the style of early New Orleans jazz, choro functions on group polyphony where everyone has a role yet it’s open and free-spirited, with simultaneous melodies happening. It can be groove-oriented like a party, or it can be full of saudade, of longing. It can be demanding and require virtuosity. It is a perfect mix of classical music and jazz, where it demands precision” though each musician can add interpretation.

Now that she has caught the Brazil bug, Cohen visits the country often, performing, recording and jamming. “I fell in love with the Brazilian way of life,” she says. “I feel alive there. When I first went to Brazil, I immediately felt that music there doesn’t just belong to musicians but to everyone, as part of their daily lives. Some people play, some sing, some dance, some clap along. It’s part of the social fabric. I like that.”

Trio Brasileiro (Dudu Maia on bandolim, the Brazilian mandolin, and two brothers, 7-string guitarist Douglas Lora and percussionist Alexandre Lora) met Cohen in Port Townsend, Wash. at the Centrum workshops, a choro-music hotspot. Formed in 2011, Trio Brasileiro is dedicated to performing traditional choro music as well as their own contemporary choro compositions. For their latest album, Rosa Dos Ventos, the four musicians lived together in Brazil for a week, composing arranging and recording.

But the music, wherever played, “is inseparable from the culture,” Cohen insists. “In Brazil, boom, you’re there and the music starts. A little mandolin, a bit of guitar, then the clarinet. You’re just hanging out, having some beers, and someone’s going to take the instruments out and the listeners are going to become part of the scene.”

Eliane Elias: Total immersion 

Eliane Elias has lived in the Big Apple since 1981, but her roots are Brazilian. Born in Sao Paulo, she studied piano as a child. At 17 she worked with singer/songwriter Toquinho and with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s lyricist, poet Vinicius Moraes. Considered one of Jobim’s best interpreters, she will be joined in Portland by her trio with Brazilians Rubens de La Corte on guitar and drummer Rafael Barata. Bassist Marc Johnson doubles as Elias’ husband and business partner.

Elias has been making albums since 1984. On her first, Amanda, she collaborated with her former husband, trumpeter Randy Brecker; they named the album for their daughter, also a musician. She has seven Grammy nominations and in 2016 won a Grammy in the Best Latin Jazz Album category for Made in Brazil.

Her creative process often trumps the details of everyday life. When called for this interview at her New York City apartment after a trip to Europe, where she sold out numerous concerts, she was in the midst of a arranging and composing. Totally immersed in the music, she’d forgotten to eat dinner, among other things.

“The creative process is a great joy of mine,” Elias explains. “And there’s the discipline. When I was young, everyone else was going to the beach or to parties when I was at the piano. I’m no lazybones. Success is is a combination of talent, a strong will to do things, and hard work.”

Her silky, sultry alto has ripened and lowered as she has aged, giving her greater range.“Being born in Brazil, I was classically trained and became an improviser and composer at a young age,” she recalls. “I always have done a variety of music. I’m never bored.”

Neither are her many fans. With more than 2 million album sales, Elias is wildly popular in Europe and Japan, perhaps more so than in the U.S. She has no intention of slowing down on stage or off, she says. “The music is the motivation for everything I do.”

PDX Jazz presents Anat Cohen & Trio Brasileiro, 7:30 p.m. May 4, The Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave., and Eliane Elias, 7:30 p.m. May 9, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway, Portland. Tickets information online  or call 503-228-5299.

Angela Allen lives in Portland and writes about the arts. She is a published poet and photographer and teaches creative and journalistic writing to Portland-area students. Her web site is angelaallenwrites.com.  

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