Given the global lust right now for all things Brazilian, Bebel Gilberto's first full-length album, Tanto Tempo, seems a miracle of canny timing. Almost 15 years have passed since the release of her eponymous debut EP, and she's clearly chosen her moment wisely -- after collaborating with such world-music hotshots as Arto Lindsay and David Byrne; trendy dancemeisters Towa Tei and Arling & Cameron; and, oh yeah, her father, João Gilberto, without whom bossa nova, at least as we know it, would not exist.
Bossa nova, which means "new way" in Portuguese, was born in the 1950s, when Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto created a cool, gentle, often bittersweet style that quickly replaced samba as the predominant national music. Although Jobim is probably better known as a composer, it was João who invented bossa nova's distinctive sound -- the mellow acoustic guitar, the diffident vocals, the hushed elegance of the instrumental arrangements. His nickname in Brazil is O Mito, "The Legend." Bebel's mother, Miucha, a well-known singer in Brazil, is one of only three vocalists to record an entire album with Jobim; she was the first to notice her daughter's talent, introducing 7-year-old Bebel as a guest vocalist on one of her solo records. Bebel's uncle is singer/composer Chico Buarque, another eminent figure in Brazilian popular music.
With such a lineage, Bebel no doubt felt pressured to achieve perfection. Tanto Tempo doesn't disappoint. A CD that might appeal equally to club kids and their grandparents, it's a dreamy conflation of past and present, a hypnotic fusion of sexy samba, breezy bossa nova and contemporary trance. Acoustic guitars and traditional percussion warm the sequenced loops; samples reveal the comforting skips and crackles of worn vinyl. Updates of '60s-era standards nestle against Bebel's originals, both old and recent. Thanks to Bebel's deep and knowing croon and the understated, intelligent arrangements, the flow never falters. Sprightly and melancholy, bright and dusky, Tanto Tempo reveals the true legacy of bossa nova: chiaroscuro, the beauty of flickering shadows.