Live Brazilian Music: Bebel Gilberto and Forro in the Dark at Royce Hall

By Don Heckman

Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto and the band Forro in the Dark opened CAP UCLA’s new music season at Royce Hall Friday night with a two-hour romp through the rich harmonies, soaring melodies and irresistible rhythms of Brazilian music.

If you’re wondering what CAP UCLA is, and what happened to UCLA LIVE, here’s the answer to both questions: UCLA LIVE has become CAP UCLA,  And the meaning of that new title: Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA.

Bebel Gilberto

Although she was born in New York, Gilberto is the daughter of bossa nova master  Joao Gilberto and singer Miucha Buarque.  Her uncle is the much honored singer/songwriter Chico Buarque.  Add it up and the sum total is true Brazilian music royalty.  And Bebel Gilberto has made the most of it since she was a teen-ager.  Rapidly ascending the Brazilian pop diva ladder since her participation in the Red, Hot & Rio project, and the release of her first significant solo album, Tanto Tempo in 2000, she has thoroughly proven the value of her own show biz credentials.

Gilberto’s L.A. performances over the past decade or so have tended to reflect her evolution from the laid back bossa nova she heard as a child, to a broader range of crossover music, blending Brazilian rhythms with elements from r&b, pop, soul and jazz.

In this appearance, her role as a versatile Brazilian pop star was front and center.  She sang songs prominently featured on her albums – “Sem Contencao” from Tanto Tempo, “Simplesmente” from Bebel Gilberto.  She dipped back into the past to cover Vinicius de Morais’ classic bossa, “Samba da bencao.”

Shifting gears, she found the inner soul of “Preciso Dizer Que Eu Te Amo,” a song she recorded with its composer, Brazilian rocker Cazuza.  And she included several English language songs, re-framed by her Brazilian perspective.  Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” succeeded perfectly as a floating bossa nova.  So, too, did Marcos Valles “So Nice (Summer Samba),” with Gilberto bringing her uniquely buoyant phrasing to Norman Gimbel’s English language lyrics.

There was more, from different sources, even different genres, all of it illuminated by Gilberto’s far-ranging vocal imagination.

Forro in the Dark

Forro in the Dark, the opening act, is a New York-based band of Brazilian musicians eager to update and expand the potential of forro,  the lively dance (and party) music of Brazil’s northeastern states.  And they did exactly that, in style, in their opening set.  Driven hard by flutist Jorge Continentino with the sort of vigorous enthusiasm displayed by Ian Anderson in the rock group Jethro Tull, they delivered a dynamic set of tunes, surveying a vivid selection of forro styles

As the concert came to a close, I was struck by the appropriateness of Bebel Gilberto and Forro in the Dark as the first musical acts in CAP UCLA’s maiden season.  Their combination of musical eclecticism and dynamic onstage presence reflected the broad, colorful menu of musical offerings that have been selected for the 1012/13 schedule by CAP UCLA’s new Executive and Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds.  Bottom line — the lead-off event by Bebel Gilberto and Forro in the Dark set the stage for a far-reaching array of compelling music at Royce Hall this season.  Expect to be mightily entertained.

Bebel Gilberto photo courtesy of Bebel Gilberto.

Forro in the Dark photo courtesy of Forro in the Dark.

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One Response to Live Brazilian Music: Bebel Gilberto and Forro in the Dark at Royce Hall

  1. Anonymous says:

    Was it just me and my friends who were thoroughly disappointed with Ms. Gilberto’s performance? Of course the poor acoustics of Royce Hall didn’t help. But she sang off tune, talked too much throughout the performance yet never really connected with the audience as a performer. We saw many people get up and leave after a few songs. They certainly didn’t wait around until the very end of the show. For someone who loves brazilian jazz, adored her father’s music, enjoyed her album and was looking forward to see her perform live, I was very disappointed and felt let down as a fan.

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