THE NEW YORK TIMES
June 24, 2008
A Seductive Urban Sound Hushes Carnegie Hall
By JON PARELES
João Gilberto: The father of bossa nova at Carnegie Hall on Sunday.
Bossa nova, the quietly revolutionary Brazilian music that João Gilberto introduced 50 years ago, quickly became associated with the sunswept beaches and sweeping mountain vistas of Rio de Janeiro in songs like “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl from Ipanema”) and “Corcovado.” Yet, in the hands of Mr. Gilberto, who returned to Carnegie Hall for a JVC Jazz Festival concert on Sunday night, it is also very clearly an urban music, working its subtleties within confined spaces and rigid limitations, like an apartment dweller intent on not disturbing neighbors.
Mr. Gilberto chooses to perform alone with his acoustic guitar, and his concert was a graceful meditation on solitude, memory, renunciation, control and selfsufficiency. His choice of songs was also a reminder that, while bossa nova was devised in Rio, Mr. Gilberto was born in the state of Bahia. The concert was the kind of recital that New Yorkers have been lucky enough to see regularly at JVC festivals over the last decade, and one virtually unmarred by the technical problems that have disturbed Mr. Gilberto at previous shows.
His performance is a ritual of simplicity: Mr. Gilberto simply walks onstage, sits down with his guitar and plays and sings so gently that a hush falls over the room, and time itself seems to hold its breath.
Time is still there, riding on the thumb that picks the low notes in Mr. Gilberto’s harmonies, answered by lightly syncopated chords for a pulse that rarely varies once it is set. There is samba in that pulse, and swing, but both are heard from a distance, like city bustle through a closed window. And against that pulse, Mr. Gilberto works variations that are both mathematical and psychological. Within the pulse, guitar chords loomed or went silent.
In the first song Mr. Gilberto’s voice meshed with the pulse, singing in steady eighth notes; he returned to them in his last encore, an almost ghostly “Garota de Ipanema.” But in between he left the beat behind: lingering over phrases and displacing them, teasingly shifting in and out of sync, sometimes crooning and sometimes letting his voice grow scratchy. He sang as if his fingers and his throat were in separate spheres, responding to each other from afar.
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