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Brazilian-born, New York-based pianist-vocalist-composer Eliane Elias makes her Bluebird Jazz debut with the sumptuous Kissed by Nature, a 13-track collection comprised of ten original vocal and instrumental compositions, a medley of two tunes by the great Brazilian songwriter Djavan and two bonus track remixes produced by the popular Brazilian DJ team BossaCucaNova. The CD will be released on September 24.

While continuing to exercise her prowess as a top-notch jazz artist, Elias expands her creative vision on Kissed by Nature by adding new textures, colors and shapes to her music. She delivers coolly romantic and reflective ballads and swinging upbeat cookers that are infused with Brazilian music influences and buoyed by the leader's command of jazz improvisation. "I wanted to make a record that could be listened to when you just want to relax," says Elias. "Instead of creating an album of pianistic virtuosity, I set out to make music that is beautiful as well as artistically engaging."

Kissed by Nature features Elias' sweetly expressive piano playing and her soft, sensuous vocals that complement her instrumental phrasing. She notes that many of the tracks on the album were inspired by nature. "I wrote most of these songs when I was at my home in the Hamptons. I'm in the woods, close to the beach. The tunes reflect that." For the bulk of the album, Elias works in a trio format with bassist Marc Johnson (who co-produced the album with her) and alternating drummers/percussionists Joey Baron and Paolo Braga. Also appearing on a couple of tracks are Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn Rick Margitza on tenor saxophone. Elias stretches vocally on this album-in English and Portuguese as well as with wordless vocals-more so than earlier outings. She says, "I wasn't planning to sing as much as I do, but that's the direction the album took while I was writing."

Many of Elias' new songs came ready-made. "I love those moments when the inspiration is there and the tune just comes," she says. "That's how 'Kissed by Nature' arrived. It was a gift. It was like that with 'A Volta' too. It's a love song, like most of these tunes." In addition to several reflective gems on the CD-including two songs from a Danish project she worked on a couple of years ago: the sobering "October" with Brecker on muted trumpet and the mournful "September" with Brecker on flugelhorn-there are groove-oriented tunes such as the soulful "Luar" with its bossa nova/choro feel and the joyous medley of Djavan's "Fato Consumado" and "Dobrado" (which marks the first time Elias has recorded his material).

Other highlights include the rhythmic "Balancê," featuring Elias' alluring piano harmonies and sultry vocals, and the rousing "Manhattan," a celebration of her home spiced by clapping rhythms and Braga's percussion. "I wrote that song with my mother over the phone when she was in Brazil during Carnaval," Elias says. "I was watching the celebration on Global TV and I caught the spirit. We wrote it without the piano, just singing the melody and words together back and forth. I love it because of its simplicity."

The CD is marked by two hip electronic remixes of the upbeat title track and the equally rhythmic "Balancê." Elias says that she was approached by her new label to consider using some of her material in this way. "I said I'd have to see if I liked what the DJs came up with," she says. "I listened to a couple of records by BossaCucaNova and I liked their approach. Then when I heard their remixes of two of my songs, I loved them. They are so good. I'm very pleased with what these young guys did. It would be great if they could open my music up to a new audience."

Kissed by Nature is the latest triumph in Elias' illustrious career. Born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, she began playing the piano at an early age, immersing herself first in the music of her country then later studying the works of jazz pianists Art Tatum and Bud Powell. She worked in local jazz and bossa nova clubs, then hit the international circuit when she was 17, working with two of Brazil's greats, Toquinho and Vinicius de Moraes. Her exceptional performance as a pianist led her to New York in 1981. After a stint in the fusion group Steps Ahead, Elias formed her own band and made her first recording as a leader in 1986. In 1988, she began a long association with Blue Notes Records, making over a dozen albums for the imprint, including the 1995 album Solo and Duets with Herbie Hancock. Described by Musician magazine as "a landmark in piano duo history," it was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Solo Jazz Performance category.

Recently Elias was a featured performer in Calle 54, director Fernando Trueba's documentary film on Latin jazz. The soundtrack album was nominated for a 2001 Grammy in the Best Latin Jazz Album category. In the same year, Elias was also nominated for a Grammy in the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album category for her album Impulsive! with Bob Brookmeyer and the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra.

During the course of her career, Elias has performed in a range of settings, from straight-ahead jazz to free-style improvisation, and has offered distinctive renditions of a variety of Brazil's music, including intricate bossa nova and moving interpretations of classic tunes by her country's great songwriters. With Kissed by Nature, she delivers another remarkable album that affirms-and furthers-her reputation as both an extraordinary pianist, composer and sensuous vocalist.


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