Tanto Tempo (Ziriguiboom/Six Degrees 675036 1026)
Bebel Gilberto was born to sing bossa nova.
That sounds like hype, but her personal history bears it out. Her dad is Joao Gilberto, the singer/guitarist who helped Stan Getz launch the bossa nova craze in America, while her mother, Miucha (the sister of singer Chico Buarque), was a major star in her own right in Brazil. In that sense, Bebel is practically bossa nova royalty.
Even so, she's not one merely to follow in her parents' footsteps. So even though "Tanto Tempo," her solo debut, includes a number of tunes that are Brazilian pop classics, this is not her father's bossa nova.
The album-opening "Samba de Bencao" makes that change crystal clear. Its dreamy orchestration, lush with vibraphone, tenor sax and trombone, isn't the work of an arranger; it was concocted by DJ Amon Tobin, who pieced together snippets from various recordings to build the rhythm bed.
Although the principal guitar-based rhythm loop conveys a classic bossa-nova feel, Tobin's textural manipulation slyly nudges the track toward drum 'n' bass and dub, adding just enough rhythmic tension to make Gilberto's languid vocal seem at once timeless and modern. It's a wonderfully subversive performance, because its reinvention of the bossa nova is so subtle you almost don't notice the differences.
Gilberto works with a number of DJ/producers on this disc, including Smoke City's Chris Franck and Nina Miranda, and the Thievery Corporation combine. As such, most of the album's rhythm tracks derive from loops. Even so, there's nothing canned about the album's sense of groove, in part because the loops are invariably reinforced by live percussion, but mostly because there's such a natural fluidity to Gilberto's singing.
"Sem Contencao," for instance, layers live percussion and guitar over programmed rhythm patterns to generate a groove that is both clockwork precise and slightly elastic. Gilberto plays off both aspects of the rhythm, spitting staccato syllables when she wants to lock into the groove, then holding back slightly to let the phrases flow with the irregular pulse of rushing water. It's a perfect balance between the robotic perfection of club music, and the more human feel of classic bossa nova.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that Gilberto has inherited her father's exquisite tone and effortless delivery. When she sings "So Nice" (the vocal version of Marcos Valle's classic "Summer Samba"), it's easy to hear 40 years of Brazilian popular music tradition at work in her singing.
And yet, when she works against the electronics and programming in her own tunes, "Mais Feliz" and "Lonely," she makes a break from her parents' music that is as striking and definitive as the way bossa nova changed the sound of samba. All of which makes "Tanto Tempo" a must-hear for any fan of Brazilian music. ****
Full Lick (C2 62194)
Dance-music producers are usually pretty easy to categorize, because once they find a groove, they stick with it. Not Satoshi Tomiie. This Japanese-born, New York-based DJ and producer has such eclectic taste and stylistic agility that he can move easily between trance, drum 'n' bass and house beats. But even though the selections on "Full Lick" run the gamut from thumping, soulful "Up in Flames" to the breathless abandon of "Secret Place," to the jazzy swagger of "Heaven," Tomiie manages to keep the music flowing so evenly that you barely notice the shifting styles. Not only does that give "Full Lick" greater breadth than most dance albums, but it also serves to remind us that there's more to a beat than mere musical style. ***1/2
Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portuondo (World Circuit/Nonesuch 79603)
Imagine yourself in the Florida Keys on a hot, muggy night in the mid-'50s. The radio picks up a broadcast from a hotel in Cuba, and suddenly the room is filled with the inviting melancholy of a dark-voiced woman crooning some impossibly sad song against the vibrant background of an Afro-Cuban big band. That's the ambience suggested by the sound of "Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portuondo." Backed by some of the finest Cuban musicians alive, Portuondo is a big-band singer of the classic sort, easily holding her own against the brassy arrangements while somehow seeming to control the action through the quiet authority of her voice. Better yet, "El hombre que yo ame" -- her version of "The Man I Love" -- is so perfect you'd swear the Gershwins meant to write in Spanish. ****
Deviant (MCA 088 112 254)
When did samplers become the new electric guitars? Even though Pitchshifter is a guitar-based hard-rock combo in concert, in the studio, the group makes extensive use of samplers, synths and pre-programmed rhythms. That's not to say the sound of "Deviant" is calculated or mechanical; if anything, it's the sheer humanity of tracks like "Forget the Facts" and "As Seen on TV" that makes the music so striking. Unlike the DJ-driven sound of club music, Pitchshifter doesn't use technology to pull each musical element into perfect alignment. Instead, the group sees electronics as a way of tossing a spanner into the works -- either by distorting the natural sound of its instruments, or by setting up a groove so perfect it only underscores the fallibility of the band's human elements. And that, combined with the textural detail packed into tracks like "Hidden Agenda" and "Dead Battery," make it normal to be attracted to this "Deviant." ***