Bossa nova was the main course on the menu during the Brazilian icon's residence at The Blue Note last week.
Possibly aware of the need to be as minimalist as possible, she was backed by a simple quartet that included acoustic guitar, bass, drums and saxophone, a lineup very similar to her MTV Unplugged tour a few years back.
After reaching the stage by walking through the audience, Gal (as she is known by her Brazilian fans) opened with three Jobim classics, "Fotografia", "Desafinado" (Off Key) and "Chega de Saudade (No More Blues), songs featured in her 1999 tribute album Gal Sings Jobim. On the latter, she invited the audience to sing along with her. Not many knew the Portuguese words, but they obliged and followed the melody as well as they could.
The band then shifted the mood a bit as they took on Ary Barroso's "Camisa Amarela" (Yellow Shirt), a humorous tune on Brazil's attitude during the four-day Carnaval smorgasboard. In the words, a woman tells of how her lover wears a worn yellow shirt as he parties on, only to burn it when Ash Wednesday comes along. She also paid tribute to the genious of Joao Gilberto by taking on two songs from his usual setlist, "Pra Machucar Meu Coração", a tune featured on 1964's landmark album Getz/Gilberto, and "Ave-Maria do Morro", a traditional song about life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro.
One of the evening's highlights was the bluesy take on "Nada Além", which featured bassist Jorin Moreira and about 200 snapping fingers. Another great moment was "As Time Goes By", which had a very subtle bossa-nova arrangement that highlighted the chops of guitarist Adriano Moreira.
The night, however, was an unspoken tribute to Jobim, and she went through other songs from his songbook, such as "Wave", "A Felicidade" and one of his rare collaborations with Dorival Caymmi, "Copacabana."
Costa closed the show with Ary Barroso's "Brazil", and returned for an encore which featured "The Girl From Ipanema" sung in English and Portuguese. The arrangement was very similar to the Getz/Gilberto recording, with saxophonist Zé Canuto playing a jazzy solo that sounded very close to the Stan Getz's rendition.
Gal Costa seemed to enjoy the moment, for she gave a very relaxed performance - during "Ipanema", she handed the mike to some of the audience members, and cracked self-mocking jokes at her English skills and also about the presence of so many Japanese fans in the audience.
At 60 years of age, her voice still sounds amazingly youthful and fresh, and shows no sign of strain or stress. Differently from her performances in larger venues, the audience had a chance to see a more intimate side of the singer. She reportedly enjoyed the small club experience, and has promised to return soon.