5 · Bebel Gilberto

When I was a kid, my musical landscape wasn’t vast: an Abba tape; Peter and the Wolf; a synthesized cover of Star Wars (Patrick Gleeson, where are you now?). Most of the surrounding geography was mapped out by my parents: continents of classical music dotted with oases of easy listening—Glen Campbell, Anne Murray, Roger Whittaker, Cleo Laine. Cleo was one of my Dad’s favourites—Britain’s first lady of jazz, in those days.

When I drew up my own musical maps I left the jazz hemisphere blank: not quite “Here Be Monsters”, just a territory I had no interest in exploring. Rock and classical and everything in-between, sure, but anything involving “stylings” wasn’t my style.

But new decades bring new horizons, and in my thirties I’ve discovered jazz at last, even if it’s taken a while to admit it. Frank Sinatra didn’t count. All those lounge compilations of the late ’90s didn’t count. The hybrid forms of electronica smuggled in on the back of Sunscreem and Fat of the Land didn’t count. But now... well, now I’m listening to Mo’ Horizons and Koop and Mr Hermano and Les Hommes all the time, and I have to admit: yes, they’re jazz. Not experimental Miles Davis-type jazz, but South American jazz, transplanted to Northern Europe (where all those bands are from): a hybrid which is, as far as I’m concerned, the essence of cool. There’s something about bossa nova that seems perfectly suited to dark nights, and nowhere does dark nights like Northern Europe.

So I’ve gone from listening to mostly male rock singers to mostly female jazz singers—a parade of anonymous vocalists breathing sexy nothings into the microphone. Not all anonymous, though, because one in particular stands out. Bebel Gilberto’s first album, Tanto Tempo, was one of my favourites of 2002 (though it had been out a couple of years already in her native Brazil): a perfect combination of old-style bossa with new-style touches from the likes of the Thievery Corporation, with a couple of unexpected covers thrown in. Ray Davies never sounded so sultry.

Her follow-up, Bebel Gilberto, got short shrift from some critics when it was released. Whatever her debut had, they reckoned, this had lost it. Which goes to show that reviews of new releases are, as often as not, a complete waste of time. Bebel Gilberto is an album that grows better with every listen, from the soaring sweep of “Simplesmente”* to the gentle finish of “Next to You”. Perfectly performed by singer, band, and orchestra, it’s as complex and uplifting an album as you could want. And, I have to admit, very, very... easy. Looks like I’ve found my Cleo Laine.

My other favourite new-jazz album of the year almost didn’t get a mention, because I’m ashamed to admit that it’s an evil copy-protected disk—the only one I own. What can I say: I had to make a snap decision in the Brussels FNAC, because I knew I’d never see it back in the UK. Even more frustrating, Mo’ Horizons... and the New Bohemian Freedom may well be their best album yet. At least if it was rubbish I could ditch it; instead, every listen leaves me feeling I ought to download an mp3 as penance. Not that I’d encourage anyone to do that... especially where excellent examples of German jazz are concerned.

*The UK release opens with this track—a much better opener than “Baby”, which kicks off the US version. If you own the latter, try reprogramming the order with “Baby” as track 8. And for more about Bebel, try Slipcue’s guide.