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Astrud Gilberto: 6 essential songs

Astrud Gilberto brought the alluring sound of Brazilian bossa nova to listeners worldwide.


Astrud Gilberto, who died on June 5 at 83, brought the first, alluring taste of Brazilian bossa nova to countless listeners worldwide. Her collaborations — with Stan Getz, Gil Evans, Stanley Turrentine and others — also helped cement the connections of bossa nova and jazz.

Her voice was disarmingly modest, sometimes hitting notes a little flat and often barely above a whisper; the effect was intimate and seemingly weightless. When she sang in English, her Brazilian accent gave her an endearing hint of awkwardness and approachability, even as her phrasing stayed supple, while the translated lyrics invited a wider audience to hear great Brazilian songwriters like Antonio Carlos Jobim. Her early recordings are her most radiant ones, steeped in the pensive, nostalgic longing that Brazilians call saudade.

Here are six indelible Astrud Gilberto performances.

Stan Getz featuring Astrud Gilberto: “The Girl From Ipanema” (1963)

This was the bossa nova that seduced the world: a purposeful crossover collaboration by American saxophonist Stan Getz, Jobim, Astrud Gilberto and her then-husband, the definitive bossa nova guitarist and singer João Gilberto. Its full version opened with João Gilberto singing the Portuguese lyrics, but the world-conquering single cuts quickly to Astrud Gilberto’s breathy voice in English, with Jobim on piano trickling just a few perfect notes to answer her.

The New Stan Getz Quartet featuring Astrud Gilberto: “It Might as Well Be Spring” (1964)

Gilberto doesn’t exactly sound “as jumpy as a puppet on a string” in this live performance of the Rodgers and Hammerstein standard with the Stan Getz Quartet. Instead, she’s poised and sure-footed, musing about the possibility of romance as Getz’s saxophone scurries and spirals around her.

“Água de Beber” (1965)

Jobim rejoined Gilberto as a collaborator on her luminous solo debut, “The Astrud Gilberto Album.” His voice shadows hers on their nonchalantly elegant version of his bossa nova standard “Água de Beber” (“Water to Drink”); as she sings about a love as essential as water, the song glows with mutual fondness.

“The Shadow of Your Smile” (1965)

A studio orchestra offers a hint of fanfare, then falls into an admiring hush behind Gilberto’s voice in this Oscar- and Grammy-winning song from the movie “The Sandpiper.” Written by Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster, with strong bossa nova influences, the song’s arrangement ripples around Gilberto with little instrumental flourishes — strings, flutes, piano, vibraphone — but Gilberto’s voice maintains its serene wistfulness.

“Berimbau” (1966)

A berimbau, the one-stringed percussion instrument prized in Bahia, Brazil, twangs its way through this song by Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes. The brassy, slightly ominous arrangement by Gil Evans highlights the pinpoint syncopations of Gilberto’s vocal.

“Maria Quiet” (1966)

Gilberto sang most often about love as it arrives and disappears. But every so often she turned to other thoughts — like the feminist resentment in “Maria Quiet,” a brisk samba with lyrics (de Moraes translated by Norman Gimbel) about women’s endless work. Gilberto’s delivery is pointed, and quietly seething.

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