Following in her family's footsteps, but making her own quick strides to international success, Bebel Gilberto redefines bossa nova with her tantalizing mix of sizzling Brazilian melodies and hip electronica. Four years after her triumphant debut, Tanto Tempo, which was followed by a club-oriented remix version of the album, the stunning singer returns with a new self-titled CD. Her approach is similar to the first recording, but with noticeable differences.
Although Tanto Tempo was Gilberto's first full-length release, she was certainly no stranger to the music business. As the daughter of legendary singer/composer João Gilberto and the renowned singer Miúcha, Gilberto has been around music her entire life.
Indeed, Gilberto's introduction to the world of recording studios actually came when she was seven years old and sang on one of her mother's records. Two years later, the exquisite mother-daughter duo performed with the great jazz saxophonist Stan Getz at Carnegie Hall. Since those extraordinary introductory occasions, she has supported and/or collaborated with a wide array of singers and instrumentalists, including David Byrne, Kenny G., Gal Costa, Laurie Anderson, Nana Vasconcelos, Arto Lindsay, Thievery Corporation, Caetano Veloso and, of course, her father. Most of those followed her migration to New York in 1991, and it was in that musical and cultural melting pot where she developed the broad taste in music so evident on both Tanto Tempo and her latest release.
The most obvious difference between the two albums is that all of the songs on Bebel Gilberto are original. Secondly, the singer enlisted several top pop-oriented producers, such as Marius deVries (Rufus Wainwright, Björk, Annie Lennox), Pascal Gabriel (Dido, New Order, Kylie Minogue) and Guy Sigsworth (Madonna, Björk, Lamb), along with well-known Brazilian singer/musician Carlinhos Brown. “I wanted this album to be more about Bebel Gilberto the songwriter,” the artist explains. “Instead of just being a singer and doing the standards of bossa nova, I'm trying to create new sounds.
“I wanted to go further with my own instrumentation, ideas and vibe. I think on this CD, it's coming across.” The singer credits the heightened focus on creating her own music to years of grueling tours with her band to support the previous release. Before that, “I was doing 300 different things,” she says, including club dates around New York, studying English, modeling and even acting.
Photo: Roberto Ligresti
Work on the new disc began in early December 2002, when Gilberto and her touring keyboardist and musical director, Didi Gutman, went into Looking Glass Studio (co-owned by Philip Glass) in Manhattan to cut basic tracks to Pro Tools with engineer Hector Castillo. The rest of her band, including guitarist Masa Shimizu, reed player Paulo Levi, drummer Magrus Borges and percussionist Mauro Refosco, also joined her, as did a few spot players. “I like an easygoing vibe and I don't care that much about the technical gear,” she says of her approach in the studio, “but I want to get the right sound on the instruments.”
To get even more of a Brazilian vibe while still recording basic tracks, she went to Rio de Janeiro for Christmas and to Bahia before New Year's Eve. At Gilberto's second stop in her homeland, she stayed with Brown for two weeks and worked on a couple of tracks: “Aganjú” (derived from Xangô, an important figure from the Brazilian religion of Candomblé) and “Jabuticaba” (a popular fruit-bearing tree in Brazil). Sessions were recorded at Ilhas Dos Sapos Studio in Salvador, Bahia, with Alé Siqueira and Flávio DeSouza engineering.
“He's the only Brazilian producer on the CD,” Gilberto says of Siqueira, “and I really admire him a lot. What he did for Brazilian music [founding Timbalada in the '90s, a socially conscious drum ensemble comprising more than 120 instrumentalists and singers], especially these days, is really, really interesting, and I'd like to drink from that water.”
One of three top pop-oriented producers snagged for Gilberto's bossa nova album: Marius deVries
Upon returning to New York in February 2003, Gilberto was introduced to London-based producer deVries through her record label, Six Degrees. She met producers Sigsworth and Gabriel about six months later. “I was looking for someone to help me define my sound, and I really wanted to have different people working with me; basically, [individuals] who were into my system, but not necessarily Brazilian,” she says.
“With Marius deVries, I started working with him from zero, without really knowing where we were going,” Gilberto says. During the summer of 2003, deVries spent a good deal of time familiarizing himself with the singer's previously recorded tracks. Additionally, he transferred the basics to Emagic Logic, his format of choice. “There were no completed tracks,” he says by phone from the Strongroom studio in London, “but there were a lot of ideas, energy and great performances. Everything that's on the record existed, in one form or another, at least in sketch form, before we started working together.
“Also, there wasn't a lot of focus, which she acknowledged, and that was one of the reasons she came to me,” deVries continues. “Bebel did have a very strong instinct for what she wanted, but I'm not sure how clearly verbalized it was, initially. I think that was one of the pleasures of the record: uncovering what was in her as part of the process. I contributed some extra writing to some of the tracks and helped with vocal arrangements and some of the lyrics, especially when she sang in English.”
The producer says his sonic approach was fairly simple and subtle, with minimal effects — mostly augmenting what was already there with an array of plug-ins, from Bomb Factory compression to Altiverb to Amp Farm processing and Emagic's Epic TDM.
Producer Pascal Gabriel brought elements of electronica and Brazilian music to Gilberto's latest.
At one point, deVries had to leave the project to work on Rufus Wainwright's Want One CD, so Gilberto turned to other producers. Upon the conclusion of a 20-date tour through England and Western Europe during August and September 2003, the singer cut a pair of tracks with Sigsworth and Gabriel. Comparing the three producers, she says, “The biggest difference between them is that Marius is a more by-the-book kind of producer, but also very crazy, and he could interpret my moods. Guy is absolutely romantic and an incredible arranger with a classical foundation. Pascal is an electronic producer, who had his own ideas about instruments and how Brazilian music is supposed to sound. That was interesting because he took my melody and words and turned them into a story.”
In keeping with the general theme of the singer's CD, Pascal crafted electronic elements to underscore Gilberto's sensuous vocals. “I had a bit of a groove going that actually was a wall of noise,” the producer says from his studio. “It came from weird explosion sounds slowed down with tin can metallic things I had samples of.”
Shortly after working on the single tracks with Pascal and Sigsworth, Gilberto and deVries reconnected and went to Rio de Janeiro for about five weeks to track vocal overdubs, guitar solos and some percussion at AR Studios. Gilberto says that an essential part of her vision of the album was that it have “a Brazilian heartbeat” beneath the layered electronics and other non-Brazilian musical influences. “I wanted Marius deVries to smell Brazilianism and use some of the musicians there.” One of them was none other than her mother, who Gilberto had just helped with her own recent recording. “I just wanted to share the moment with her, because she's an incredible improviser who creates interesting sounds and different colors,” Gilberto says of her mother. Antoine Midani, assisted by Bruno Kubrusly and Duda Mello — the same team that worked on Tanto Tempo — serves as engineer during this phase of recording.
Once back in London, Gilberto and deVries worked diligently for three weeks from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. at the Strongroom to get the project finished, mixed and mastered by Christmas 2003. Strings played by the London Session Orchestra were added to “River Song,” “Simplesmente,” “All Around” and “Next to You,” with the arrangements done by deVries, Gilberto and conductor Chris Elliott. Recording for those elements was done at Angel Studios in London and engineered by Gary Thomas. “Nothing was terribly difficult,” deVries says, “but it was a challenge to keep the orchestrated selections clear. They became quite busy and full, which is not really a tendency of bossa nova-based music to have that kind of density.”
Engineer Andy Bradfield at Strongroom's SSL board
Andy Bradfield, who has worked on many of deVries' projects for the past 10 years, was also brought in at the mix stage. Working on an SSL G Series console augmented by various analog tools such as LA-2As, LA-3As and a Phoenix compressor, he mixed most of Bebel Gilberto at the Strongroom. Additionally, Tom Elmhirst did the mixing for “Céu Distante” and Sean McGhee mixed “Cada Beijo” at Frou Frou in London.
Bradfield says of deVries, “Marius tends to use dynamics a lot, which I really love. That's part of the reason he and I get on so well. We realize that not everything has to be at 200 million dBs. The tender sections can be really nice and the explosive stuff can really be quite powerful, so everything is shown in the best possible light.”
He says the mixing was rather straightforward for the majority of Gilberto's album. Still, a few tracks were rather challenging. “‘Aganjú’ was quite tricky and had a lot of percussion on it that we actually submixed some of it in the computer. That's a good example of how you can have the best of both worlds. It also helps me, in terms of when I'm actually doing a mix, so I can concentrate on what the vibe is going to be rather than, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to fit all these things on the desk?’ Marius and I are probably known for our big multitrack count, and we probably maxed out at about 128. But some of the songs that have a lot don't sound like they do.”
There's ample amount of air and space on the album, as befits a Brazilian-oriented recording where vibe and musicianship are so important. Still, it's distinctly modern, even forward-looking. “Bebel comes from the most impeccable Brazilian music pedigree with her family's history, but at the same time, she has grown up in New York and has a feel for Western pop music,” deVries comments. “It's a wonderful collision of those two sensibilities that, along with her voice and personality, makes it an intriguing package.”
Gilberto concludes, “The results were wonderful and I also fell in love with Guy, Pascal, Carlinhos and Marius, because they got different sounds, melodies and ideas from me. I don't think that would have happened if I were working with anyone else. But I do feel pressure from the fans, record company and people in general to be my father's daughter. I'm always wondering when I'm going to graduate from that.”
• For a look at Gilberto from the Remix perspective, click
• Want to know more about Brazilian electronic music? Click
• To hear clips of Bebel Gilberto, click