Arriving fashionably late for her first Gotham show in over a year, Astrud Gilberto marveled that she’d drawn a full house inclined to shake off the effects of an unexpected early evening monsoon that appropriately enough turned the surrounding streets into a scene straight out of the swampiest of tropics.
Despite her revered status among world music buffs and lounge aficionados alike, there’s not so much as a hint of diva quality surrounding Gilberto. Even at the age of 58, she retains a near-childlike vulnerability, conveyed through both a singsong deadpan delivery and an amiably skittish stage presence.
While those qualities combined to make Wednesday’s performance the first of a three-night stint at S.O.B.’s, Gilberto’s regular New York booking a bit one- dimensional, that dimension seems to beckon listeners as intensely as ever.
Stylishly turned out in a form-fitting black suit, the Brazilian songbird was the picture of elegance as she moved from subtly shaded ballads like “Mi Corazon” to Caribbean-tinged grooves such as “E So Mi Pedir.”
An extended bilingual version of her signature song, “The Girl From Ipanema,” naturally elicited the biggest response, but fiery uptempo numbers like “Sonho Dorado” (which Gilberto said was being premiered at the show) were bona fide crowd-pleasers as well.
Gilberto, who is currently without an American record contract, did an admirable job of allowing her backing musicians to stretch out without giving the impression that the 70-minute set was being padded. Guitarist Mark Lambert was particularly impressive, nimbly picking out the difficult chord changes inherent in traditional Brazilian tunes such as “Doralice.”
Friendly without being unduly condescending the set was pleasantly free from the misguided cover versions so often inserted by veteran artists this was old-school world music at its best.