Marc Johnson/Eliane Elias: Swept Away (ECM 2168)

Swept Away

Marc Johnson
Eliane Elias
Swept Away

Eliane Elias piano
Marc Johnson double-bass
Joey Baron drums
Joe Lovano tenor saxophone
Recorded February 2010 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: Joe Ferla
Produced by Eliane Elias and Marc Johnson

Although bassist Marc Johnson and pianist Eliane Elias are the heart of this distinctly melodic album (only their names appear on the cover), let us not ignore the atmospheric contributions of saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Joey Baron, whose completion of the quartet thus featured lends a sweeping quality to these mostly original tunes. With the latter contributions in full effect, Elias’s lush, classic sound and Johnson’s ever-thoughtful navigations ring that much more authentically.

The working trio of Johnson, Elias, and Baron produces five delectable tracks, of which “One Thousand And One Nights” and “B Is For Butterfly” are the most upbeat. Where one is engaging and modal, the other emits springtime warmth. Elias’s comping is dense but never invasive, lending context to her partner’s bass solos with a love shared both within and without the studio. One may read signs of this connection throughout the title track, in which Johnson’s prosody serves as yang to Elias’s poetic yin. These intimate settings prove fine vehicles for Elias, but none so nostalgic as “Inside Her Old Music Box” nor so impressionistic as “Foujita.”

With Lovano the band curves inward—more spaciously yet with lesser travel. This is no small feat, considering the powers of evocation possessed by each member. “It’s Time” introduces Lovano to the record’s sound-world and references Michael Brecker, in whose memory the tune was written, with richness. “When The Sun Comes Up” and “Sirens Of Titan” are jewels in their own right, contrasting hills of awakening with valleys of darker energies. Whether spurring the drums to lively enterprise or stretching intergalactic wormholes into sonorous infinity, Elias abounds. “Midnight Blue,” for difference, portraits a softer romance, the following “Moments” even more so, Lovano swaying like the night itself with the assurance of a touch shared by two.

Johnson’s solitary rendition of the American folksong “Shenandoah” closes out this well-rounded album with poise and purpose. In addition to being an autobiographical look back to the bassist’s Midwestern roots, it leads with equal footing into a future where one never need go far to find a song to sing.

Swept Away is a flawless reckoning of intuition and compositional integrity. The engineering, courtesy of a crack team at New York’s Avatar Studios, processes each cymbal hit as if it were the only thing sounding, while every channel around it remains clear and alive. Fresh yet familiar, sparkling yet serene, this is the kind of record you want to come home to.

(To hear samples of Swept Away, click here.)

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