There must be something in the Gilberto blood, though Bebel Gilberto may not thank me for pointing her illustrious lineage out. The daughter of Joao Gilberto, one of the actual inventors of the Bossa Nova sound, and step-daughter of Astrud Gilberto, the movement’s premier ambassador, has some tough acts to follow.
More feted by the Lounge cognoscenti in Europe than in her native Brazil, Bebel found international success with her first album Tanto Tempo four years ago. Unfussy, uncluttered, and yes, perhaps undemanding, Gilberto’s brand of 21st Century Bossa Nova sans frontieres, struck an abstract chord with a cool school of music makers and re-mixers. Subsequently, lots of people who think very seriously indeed about Jazz and Broken Beats, like King Britt and Faze Action offered their dutiful services for a version set of Tanto Tempo. All very Straight No Chaser, Gilles Peterson and bar-hopping holidays in Tokyo.
It’s been a long four-year wait for new material though, so can this eponymous album match the success of Tanto Tempo? As Gilberto’s producer and friend Mitor Subotic passed away shortly after the completion of her first album, she turned to big-name producers Marius De Vries (Madonna, Bjork) and Guy Sigsworth. Resisting the temptation to smother the record in neutral homogeneity (for those precious international markets), De Vries and Sigsworth have concentrated on Gilberto’s prodigious sense of composition, the exotic, evocative wistfulness of the Bossa Nova, and above all, the Latin ethereality of the Gilberto voice.
Whether intimately breathy, or tumbling, unfolding and multi-tracked, Gilberto’s voice is accorded floating space above the mix. Gilberto sings half in English and half in her mother tongue of Portuguese, and without concentration, it’s difficult to see the join. Gilberto may lack the expressive range of others, but she performs with the assurance of an artist comfortable in her own skin. Bookends Next To You and Simplesmente are both beautifully sustained sighs of records, where Gilberto’s voice excels in feel and desire.
It’s not for everyone of course. Perhaps there are times when the aspirational arrangements are just a coffee-table shine away from (S)Norah Jones soporific, but this record is no Dido-esque exercise in music for designer kitchens. While the odd tune like Baby may be more saccharine than sweet, Bebel Gilberto has just enough sugar, just enough spice for even the most jaded of palates.
Together, Gilberto, De Vries and Sigsworth have discerned an ambience that is more Left-Bank than Coutts Bank, more Kruder & Dorfmeister than Dualit toaster. For such a relatively quiet record, there’s a hell of a lot going on. The electro-samba of River Song is suffused with a festival’s worth of percussion, flutes, and strings to blissful effect. A harmonica whistles lazily across the still landscape of Winter, and a fulsome piano seduces the ear on Simplesmente.
Its that time of year where trend-spotters begin to look for their soundtrack for a hopeful Summer-esque Summer, and this record could just be a front runner. If your Summer is more likely to be weak lager on wet, windy nights in Rhyl than cocktails on the Cote d’Azur, there’s no need for concern. With Bebel Gilberto’s album in tow, you may not be flying down to Rio. But then again, you just might.