Bebel’s bossa break

BEBEL GILBERTO, at Harbourfront Centre's Brigantine Room (235 Queen's Quay West), Monday (July 10), 9:15 pm. $20. 973-4000. Rating: NNNNNThere.

BEBEL GILBERTO, at Harbourfront Centre’s Brigantine Room (235 Queen’s Quay West), Monday (July 10), 9:15 pm. $20. 973-4000.

Rating: NNNNN

There was never much doubt that Bebel Gilberto would make music for a living — she just got sidetracked for a a while.

It took 33 years for the silky-voiced Brazil-born, New York-based singer to release Tanto Tempo. Waylaid by South American soap opera acting jobs, Gilberto clearly took her time following in the footsteps of her father, bossa nova giant Joao Gilberto, but based on her dreamy full-length debut, the wait was worth it.

The impression that the singer somehow came out of nowhere before Tanto Tempo is mistaken.

There were backup sessions with her father, as well as guest spots on records by Caetano Veloso and former Dee Lite mixmaster Towa Tei. Amidst that background work, though, there is one job that sticks out — Gilberto’s appearance on smoove “jazz” saxophonist Kenny G’s Classics In The Key Of G abomination. Not exactly the kind of project that creates hipster credibility.

“Kenny G sticks out,” she laughs from her Manhattan apartment. “You are so kind. Listen, it’s like this. That was something I needed to do at the time. It was a nice opportunity for me, I got some exposure and I made a little money.

G thang

“Kenny G was Kenny G. The only real bad thing about the experience was that I had to sing The Girl From Ipanema. My father’s version was classic, but Kenny G somehow thought that because I was a Gilberto working with a saxophonist, he could recapture that classic magic. That’s so sad.

“It would have been so easy for me to continue down that road, doing the classic bossa nova thing and living off my father’s name. There were producers trying to steer me in that direction, and I could have made a lot of money doing that, but why?”

Instead of cheaply cashing in on the family name, Gilberto turned left. Tanto Tempo is as summery as a bossa nova album should be, but it goes well beyond the familiar.

With producers including Smoke City, the late Sao Paolo-based beat boss Suba and bossa-damaged British DJ Amon Tobin building the soundscapes, Gilberto bridges the gap between contemporary electronic music and traditional Brazilian song.

It’s a remarkably organic record, confident and unpredictable, and the opening track, a lazy recasting of Baden Powell’s Samba De Bencao, is easily the song of the summer.

“I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” Gilberto giggles. “There was a little pressure, but I was also very relaxed. I’m used to being in studios, and I was confident in the people I was working with.

Samples win

“Suba was the kind of guy who would do anything for music. We’d work on a song for three weeks and then end up throwing everything out and building an entirely new track out of a few samples from the original song. Had I, say, worked with Kenny G’s producer, that would never have happened.

“It’s funny, but my father never gave me any advice about recording. After we had finished., he told me that after So Nice I couldn’t do anything better. He loved the version, and it’s not always that my father would say things like that.”

The result is that Gilberto is creating the new Brazilian music, modern and experimental but still rooted in the past.

Yet the reaction back home has been muted at best. Tanto Tempo hasn’t even been released in Brazil.

“There’s a lot of pressure in Brazil,” sighs Gilberto. “The family name creates expectations, and I don’t know if this is what people were expecting me to do.

“I don’t think I could have made this kind of record if I still lived in Brazil. Once you live outside, you’ve got a different lens. Tanto Tempo is a record that’s as much about New York and London as Brazil, and in a way, that’s me.”

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