Bebel Gilberto, Koko, London
Bossa chill that's just a bit too cool
Wednesday 25 August 2010
To record-company marketing departments in search of a snappy slogan, Bebel Gilberto could be billed as the progenitor of bossa chill, or Latin lounge for recovering clubbers. That wouldn't be entirely fair, though, because Bebel, as one would expect, given that her father is Brazilian legend Joao Gilberto, has too artful a voice and song-writing ability to pass merely as the Carioca babe who adds some cinematic whispers to a millennial update of the landmark samba "The Girl from Ipanema".
As Bebel proved on her 2000 breakout album, Tanto Tempo, she can pen a good melody and hold the notes of any classic with requisite poise. The highlights of this gig see her do just that, no more so than on a very charming version of "So Nice [Summer Samba]" in which her limpid voice glides perfectly across the gentle surf of acoustic guitar, percussion and slightly fairground-like organ provided by a backing band that is sharply drilled and precise in its execution of arrangements without really digging into them. That restraint is, of course, a key part of the bossa aesthetic. Yet there are several major problems for Gilberto and band to overcome tonight. Above all, there is perhaps too much coolness in the execution and the material itself appears increasingly formulaic as the evening wears on.
Gilberto has tracks from big-selling albums like 2007's Momento and 2009's All In One on which to draw, and for the most part they stick to a pattern of murmured vocal over lightly brushed acoustic guitar chords, usually in a tremulous minor key, vapour trails of flute and wistful electronic effects. Too many of the pieces have the same end-of-summer haze and it makes for a decidedly sedate atmosphere, which, to be fair, suits the many couples loving up with serious holiday romance zeal. But some songs can't get beyond a studied prettiness.
The other problem is that the floating, wafer-like sensuality of "Samba De Bencao", "Baby" or "August Day Song", which is a quite gorgeous lament and arguably Gilberto's best offering to date, is swallowed up by Koko's large, noisy ground floor and high ceiling, and it's hard to shake off the feeling that the leisurely, feathery finesse of the music would be better served by a more intimate, hushed, smaller venue. For which she is now too big.
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