Daughter of bossa nova pioneer Joao Gilberto and Brazilian vocalist Miucha, stepdaughter of “The Girl from Ipanema” vocalist Astrud Gilberto, and niece of the socially progressive poet and songwriter Chico Buarque, Bebel Gilberto is a child of Brazilian music royalty. That is a heavy legacy to bear, and when I first took notice of Gilberto in the early 1990s, she had put it aside and was working with New Wave rockers and dance club producers. It took her a while to find her feet stylistically; her breakthrough came in 2000 with Tanto Tempo, a world music hit and a collection that put her on the path to becoming a marquee attraction.
The album’s sound drew on classic bossa nova and samba. “So Nice (Summer Samba),” originally done by Astrud Gilberto, is a pure bit of 1960s nostalgia, and it’s a staple of Bebel’s live shows, perfectly appropriate to the warm weekend breezes that should be in the air when she comes to the Power Center for an Ann Arbor Summer Festival show on June 18 (see Events). But Bebel pulled away from her models enough to find a musical personality of her own. She has continued to use electronics in her music, and her voice, outwardly like Astrud Gilberto’s, has a subtle capacity for sliding across the juncture between acoustic and electronic sounds.
Electronics will be less of a factor at Gilberto’s Power Center show, where she’ll appear with just a single accompanying guitarist. But that will put the focus on her other innovations, less obvious but perhaps more important. Gilberto writes much of her own music, in Portuguese and often enough in English–she was born in New York and spent part of her childhood there. And it tends toward directness and introspection, not the verbal acrobatics of the bossa nova poets. She simplifies her models, but it’s a deceptive simplicity–the wealth of Brazilian rhythm is still there, distilled down to the communication of everyday emotions.
Her covers come not only from Brazil but also, on her most recent album, Tudo, from Europe (the French club standard “Tout est bleu”) and North America (Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” which may have been waiting all its life for this sultry, infinitely relaxed reading). Gilberto’s live shows have an interesting history of being either brilliant or disastrous, but there’s every chance that this one will be a summer night to remember.