Bebel Gilberto’s second CD was called, simply, Bebel Gilberto. As with her first, Tanto Tempo (2001), a follow-up remix CD has been released.
Even on her own, nonmixed CDs, Gilberto has combined acoustic instruments with electronics to create a sound that has been called “bossatronica”. Whether the daughter of Joao Gilberto, the “Godfather of Bossa Nova”, is an innovator or just a popularizer is a matter of opinion. Either way, remixes are becoming very common in Brazilian music.
With thirteen tracks by thirteen different artists, the quality varies. The most important factor, obviously, is how well the beats meld with the original material. That is problematic for Gilberto’s music. Even though she is open to remixes, there is a relaxed, downtempo feel to much of her work that does not make it the best material for dance floor beats. On the other hand, her own CDs may be a bit too soft for some listeners, and therefore a good candidate for a bit of pumping up.
The least successful remakes are those that just throw in beats that are as loud as Gilberto’s vocals. DJ Spinna and Tom Middleton, on the first and second cuts respectively, make additions to the tracks that seem to have no relation to what she is doing.
Guy Sigsworth, on the other hand, plays down the percussion and emphasizes the melody on the beautiful “O Caninho”. Sigsworth also produced a track on Bebel Gilberto, which clearly gave him an advantage in understanding her songs.
Thievery Corporation produced and cowrote a track on Gilberto’s first CD. Their Latin rhythms and flute blend perfectly, which begs the question: Why didn’t more of the mixers take the obvious step of using Latin beats or loops?
The Latin Project falls in between the two approaches, pumping up both the beats and the keyboards for a slightly skewed but lively remix of “Aganju”. Spiritual South takes on the same song less successfully with overbearing “slaps” and spacey keyboards.
Nuspirit Helsinki used seven additional musicians, including a string quartet, to make an eight-minute piece that surpasses the original. There is a slow buildup on the song, with Gilberto’s vocals coming in over understated beats, which merge with an orchestral backup that retains the rhythm.
Telefon Tel Aviv adds additional guitars to “All Around” to good effect, harmonizing them to make this slow song more interesting, although the pounding drums are too heavy for the guitars. Yam Who’s remix benefits from the addition of Chaz Jankel’s keyboard and guitar, and makes a credible dance tune by blending loops of Gilberto’s voice.
“Next To You” is totally different, adding acoustic guitars and synthesizers without percussion. Steve Hillier captures this “dreamy” tune almost perfectly. “Every Day You’ve Been Away” adds a heavy “tick-tock” background, but has an appealing quirkiness.
“River Song” might be the highlight, with a forward moving propulsion that frames Gilberto’s voice in the production instead of competing with it. Grant Nelson treats Gilberto as a diva to be centered in the track, surrounded by loops of acoustic percussion and melodic keyboards.
The quality of each individual track seems to depend on the feel that each producer has for Gilberto’s music. Generally the more relaxed efforts here are the most successful.
This CD seems to be a learning process, discovering what types of remixes work best with Gilberto’s sound. But the producers here are among the best. There is enough good work to entice fans of both Brazilian music and electronic music.
// Notes from the Road
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