Eliane Elias, Jazz Caf&eacute;, London<img src="http://www.independent.co.uk/template/ver/gfx/fourstar.gif"></img >

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The Independent Culture

Eliane Elias isn't tall, not particularly tanned, not young (46). She may be lovely. But anyone wishing to experience some of the magic of Astrud Gilberto in her "Girl from Ipanema" days could do no better than to catch this Brazilian singer-pianist on one of her rare visits to Britain.

Elias has a deep, vibrato-less alto that brushes its way across the melody. Consonants are swallowed, and dynamics don't vary much. If this doesn't make her sound like much of a singer, remember that one could not say more for Gilberto. What the young Astrud and Elias have in common, however, is a beguiling languidity that transcends any technical limitations.

It works all the better for Elias, whose mesmerising vocal line floats above her hugely accomplished piano-playing. Elias used primarily to be an instrumentalist, joining Michael Brecker, Mike Mainieri, Eddie Gomez and Peter Erskine in the brief, brilliant life of 1983's Steps Ahead band, later playing with (and marrying) the other Brecker brother, trumpeter Randy.

As a pianist, she is in the top rank. She can move from bluesy, tremolo-laden right hand into fluent late bop, then straight from fast swing into the stricter rhythms of a Latin dance. Combining the styles while showing an authentic mastery of all of them is rare.

Elias absorbs all these influences and lets them appear one by one. Thus the melody of "Oye Como Va" is given a sensuous workover and comes across a million dreamy miles away from the Santana version; once into her solo, though, Elias lets rip with some graceful thunder that suggests the great guitarist would find her a more than worthy opponent in a cutting contest.

Elias takes rather gentler standards such as "Chega de Saudade" and "Tangerine" and updates them with her fluid, sparkling touch. Such numbers can be risky; in the wrong hands they can produce the clichéd echo of the cocktail lounge. Elias treats the tunes with respect, acknowledging their history while sprinkling enough magic dust to make them sound as they should.

Backed by drums, bass and guitar, Elias played a faultless, stunning set. Having seen Gilberto in this venue, I'd say the latter was lucky Elias was not around at the birth of the bossa. Perhaps it would have been another Brazilian we would always associate with the songs of Jobim.