Memories of Bebel Gilberto performing in her bare feet at McCaw Hall last summer made it tempting to approach her June 10 appearance at the Moore Theatre with hope for an equally exuberant show. The Moore is no opera house, but if Gilberto's energy could pulse through one like it did at McCaw, when she danced around the large stage backed by a full band, it could surely make the more intimate theater experience lively as well.
Instead of performing for an audience dedicated to her, here Gilberto opened for 21-year-old pianist-vocalist Peter Cincotti and seemed to tailor her show with that role in mind. Cincotti's take on jazz classics and his own pop-influenced songwriting are soulful but predictable, so pairing him with Gilberto was a smart move. Born 17 years apart in New York City, both are musicians bred on a variety of influences, which they appropriate in their own ways. Gilberto is a veteran of the music world with deep roots in bossa nova and pop/electronic-crossover appeal, and the Brazilian singer's inclusion brought a touch of exoticism and validity, if not pep, to an evening that could have been quite vanilla.
Just three musicians—Mauro Refosco on percussion, Pedro "Baby" Gomes on guitar, and Masa Shimizu on guitar and bass—backed her this time, but the stage was still too small for much movement. Dressed elegantly, Gilberto's stilettos and plunging blouse were also prohibitive, resulting in a lot of swaying but no antics of the kind seen at McCaw.
While not rousing the audience to groove in their seats, her interactions with them were charming, as people called to her in Portuguese and she responded in kind, often with a wink. Performing songs from her 2001 debut, Tanto Tempo, and last year's self-titled follow-up primarily in that language, I thought of what a friend once said about her father, Joao, and the seductive qualities of his voice. Like him, it never really matters what Gilberto is or isn't saying, just that she exudes sensuality while doing so. As her songs frequently begin structured and lose their form as she sings them live, going from chorus to mini–jam session and back over several minutes, the audience didn't seem to mind. They (and her bandmates) simply continued gazing at her with obvious delight. I left in admiration of her ease with the samba in different environments and her ability to cajole audience members into an easy-listening one without them even noticing.