Melody Gardot Aims For The Space Between Notes

May 31, 2012
Originally published on June 9, 2012 10:39 am

The other day, I had a conversation with Melody Gardot about space. Not outer space, but the space between notes in her music. These days, there's lots of it.

When she began making her new album, The Absence, Gardot says the thing she wanted most was a clean, uncluttered sound — something resembling Brazil's beloved bossa nova from the 1960s. She came up with coy, understated melodies and set them to rhythms that feel as natural as an ocean breeze. When it came time to sing, she took her sweet time — chilled out, leaving lots of space between phrases.

Gardot discovered Brazilian music while recovering from a serious biking accident in 2003. She was in the hospital for nearly a year, healing multiple broken bones and a brain injury that made her ultrasensitive to light and sound. Somebody gave her a compilation of bossa nova tunes by jazz tenor man Stan Getz. She says the saxophone was too harsh, but she was captivated by the plain, simple approach of Astrud Gilberto, the novice singer whose English version of "The Girl From Ipanema" was a monster hit. Gardot became obsessed with Brazil and traveled there, soaking up more inspiration.

It takes skill to emulate the rhythms of a place like Brazil. But it's another thing entirely to capture the sensibility that guides, shapes and defines so much Brazilian music. That's what's striking about The Absence: Melody Gardot has absorbed the secrets of the great Brazilian singers — their endless patience, their embrace of silence. She applies those secrets to everything she sings: Even "If I Tell You I Love You," an old-timey vaudeville tune, is dazzlingly understated.

That's what Melody Gardot means when she talks about space. She's convinced that music these days is too cluttered. Let the divas scream for attention. She'd rather just slink around and let these quiet and beautiful melodies sneak up on you instead.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

"The Absence" is the name of the new album from jazz singer Melody Gardot. It's the singer's third album, and it's inspired by the music of Brazil.

Our critic Tom Moon has this review.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Recently, I had a conversation with Melody Gardot about space. Not outer space, but the space between notes in her music. These days, there's lots of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

MELODY GARDOT: (Singing in foreign language)

MOON: When she began this record, Melody Gardot says the thing she wanted most was a clean, uncluttered sound, something resembling Brazil's bossa nova from the 1960s. She wrote simple and understated melodies, and then set them to rhythms that feel as natural as an ocean breeze. When it came time to sing, she just chilled out, leaving lots of space between her phrases.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

GARDOT: (Singing) Tales of beauty to the absence of pain in all of your scenery.

MOON: Gardot discovered Brazilian music while recovering from a serious biking accident in 2003. She was in the hospital for nearly a year, healing multiple broken bones and a brain injury that made her ultrasensitive to light and sound. Somebody gave her a compilation of bossa nova tunes by the jazz tenor man Stan Getz. She says his saxophone was too harsh, but she was captivated by the plain spoken approach of Astrud Gilberto, the novice singer whose English version of "The Girl from Ipanema" was a monster hit. Gardot became obsessed. She eventually traveled to Brazil, soaking up more inspiration.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIRA")

GARDOT: (Singing) In all that I've seen, all the love, that to me is the love that reminds me of you. In every smile, there's a trace of the joy that I feel like a sweet morning dew. Mira, look at what you do to me. Mira, look at all the fantasy. Mira, this is such a lovely way to be. Mira, mira, mira.

MOON: It takes skill to emulate the complex rhythms of a place like Brazil, but it's another thing entirely to capture the sensibility that guides so much the music there. That's what's striking about this record. Melody Gardot has absorbed the secrets of the great Brazilian singers: their endless patience, their killer timing, their embrace of silence.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

GARDOT: (Singing) Don't wait up for me, darling. I'm not coming home.

MOON: That's what Melody Gardot means when she talks about space. She's convinced that music these days is just too cluttered. She's not going to be one of those divas who screams for your attention. She'd rather just slink around and let these quiet and beautiful melodies sneak up on you instead.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SIEGEL: The new album from Melody Gardot is called "The Absence."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.