Nature placed Bebel Gilberto into one of the royal families of Brazilian music, while nurture pushed her tastes toward the experimental, rather than the traditional, end of the spectrum. She’s worked to balance — or at least oscillate between — those elements for a decade and a half, and as this sold-out Gotham perf demonstrated, she continues to find new paths to explore.
Gilberto was hampered to some degree by a broken ankle that kept her confined to a chair for a fair portion of the set. And while she integrated the lack of mobility into the perf with flair — stationing a regal-looking seating arrangement at center stage and ramping up the theatrical arm gestures — the static quality played havoc with the singer’s normally sensual presence.
She and her band hit their groove most confidently midway through the 90-minute gig, during a stretch that downplayed the programmed beats that have crept into Gilberto’s work in recent times. With the electronic augmentation turned down, songs like “Samba E Amor” and a bossa nova-flavored “Night and Day” exuded a refreshing vibe, one that encouraged a gentle sway rather than demanding a heated response.
The airier material was contrasted by songs from her recently-released “Momento” album, most of which carried a much clubbier, starker tenor. That connected solidly from time to time — particularly the provincial favorite “Os Novos Yorkinos” — but for swaths of the perf, percussionist Mauro Refosco struggled to be heard above the din.
Gilberto herself seemed more comfortable sinking into the more languid songs — encore versions of “Tanto Tempo” and “River Song” brought forth the evening’s sultriest vocals — but perhaps given the chance to shake her groove thing a bit more, she’d have sunk her teeth into the funk with equal aplomb.