The supremely gifted pianists Kenny Barron and Eliane Elias — markedly diverse in style and delivery — joined forces for an illuminating union of expressive exchanges and distinctive solo statements. It was decidedly a fraternity of heavyweights.
Barron opened with the durable Tommy Dorsey signature, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” displaying a bold maze of chords for a melodically structured beginning, then shifting into a richly swinging second chorus that danced with a distinctive display of stride fueled with echoes of Thelonious Monk. With the assist of bassist Marc Johnson and the fluently clean and tight brushwork of drummer Satoshi Takeishi, Barron probed the depths of Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean?”
Sans rhythm section, Barron paired with Elias for a bracing duet of Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” his lines elegantly structured with stately thoughts; she invested a pulsating dancing undercurrent and an infectious bold thrust.
Elias, a Brazilian, dipped generously into her homeland’s song-book with seductive Portuguese vocals and flowery piano statements. From “Chega de Saudade” to “Photograph” and an exotic duet with Barron on “Wave,” she bridged that cautious divide between easy listening and inspired jazz technique.
Her boldly full-bodied strength, darting changes and nuanced improvisation defined her distinctive turn. With keenly measured support from Johnson, Takeishi and the subtle guitar of Freddie Bryant, Elias entered the world of Antonio Carlos Jobim with a rhythmic wistfulness that clearly transported the listener to South American beaches.
When she merged Gershwin’s “Liza” with Jobim’s “So Danco Samba,” it became a dancing flight where Broadway meets Brazil at a torrid tempo. Barron rejoined Elias for Jule Styne’s “Just in Time,” and they traded beautifully fashioned ideas with bracing fluency and sophisticated assuredness. The flourishes and the depths of imagination these artists shared and displayed demonstrated the hallmark of jazz piano with rare distinction.
The program was recorded for a subsequent WBGO broadcast, and one hopes, a recorded souvenir.