When Tanto Tempo was released in 2000, Bebel Gilberto’s voice became one of the most recognizable in the world. Her North American debut album brought Brazilian-flavored, down-tempo electronica to the global stage, becoming the third biggest selling Brazilian album in U.S. history. The follow-up, Bebel Gilberto (2004), added more acoustic ingredients to the swirl of electronica that so characterized Tanto Tempo. After a brief respite and a pair of remix albums that helped establish Gilberto as a reliable draw in club land, the singer treats listeners to a cozy and calm collection of self-penned and choice cover tunes on Momento. Gilberto’s sound on Momento confidently stands outside the confines of any one genre. The elements of her previous two albums are certainly present, but they’re intertwined enough to obscure any strict categorization. Electronica, samba, pop, and bossa nova, not to mention the diverse sensibilities of Rio, London, and New York where the album was recorded, all unite in one seamless whole.
Of the title track, Gilberto says, “It’s a secret letter to myself”. That “letter”, like many of these songs, is written in undulating melodies and coasting cadences. London-based Guy Sigsworth, who produced four of the album’s 11 tracks with Gilberto, shapes the mood of the album with the opening title track. Here, Gilberto’s voice is like an unobtrusive breeze that floats underneath an equally tranquil groove. For non-Brazilian Portuguese-speaking listeners, the songs on Momento are defined by what the sound of Gilberto’s voice evokes rather than any literal meaning of the lyrics. This doesn’t diminish the joy of experiencing the album, however, since Gilberto possesses an attractive voice and has a keen ear for selecting producers who can best mold the mood that she envisions for each composition.
The album’s first single, “Bring Back the Love”, wouldn’t sound out of place on a Brazilian Girls album, and with good reason—it was written by the coyly non-Brazilian members of Brazilian Girls, Didi Gutman and Sabina Sciubba. It works well enough that an album-length collaboration between Bebel Gilberto and the Brazilian Girls would be a logical progression for both parties. “Os Novos Yorkinos”, which features the vocals of Sciubba, further underscores the album’s trans-continental tenor as it lionizes New York City artists and their vagabond lifestyle. (Gilberto cites the song’s title as a tribute to Novos Baianos, a Brazilian funk band from the 1970s who mixed together funk, rock, and psychedelia.) It’s something of a down-tempo anthem, sung in both English and Portuguese, buoyed by the hummable refrain, “Oh-oh-oh-ohhh”.
“Caçada” and “Tranquilo” mark the musical peaks on Momento. The former, written by Gilberto’s uncle Chico Buarque, is styled after Forró, a musical style based in the northeast region of Brazil. At the core of this distinctive sound are Pifanos flutes, Zabumba drums, and steel string guitars. Here, the flutes flutter above the drums like butterflies and Gilberto’s voice is the sweet nectar towards which they “dance”. Rio-based producer Kassin wrote “Tranquilo”, a hybrid of Latin and Brazilian musical designs punctuated by the horns of Orchestra Imperial. The mood is celebratory and festive, a departure from the lounge-oriented sound of the preceding tracks.
In fact, the only demerit about Momento is that its mostly mellow vibe might translate to nothing more than pleasant background music for some listeners. The songs are individually good, but, aside from “Caçada” and “Tranquilo”, they all stay within a sphere of subdued sound. Of course, that might be entirely the point: the crystalline veneer of “Azul” and the babbling brook sound effects that surface on Gilberto’s version of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” are a passport to a place where melody, serenity, and beauty intersect. No wonder Bebel Gilberto smiles radiantly out from the album cover.