Three years ago, vocalist and pianist Melody Gardot’s sophomore album, the platinum My One and Only Thrill, confirmed her status as one of the most acclaimed and beloved performers around. Since then, the bulk of her time has been taken up with touring across five continents. Perhaps, given the long wait fans have endured, the title of her third studio release is a coy reference to the old adage about making the heart grow fonder. It also has to do with absence from home, with several of the 11 songs, all written or co-written by Gardot, reflecting on her nonstop travel and the resultant surprises and delights. But The Absence is equally concerned with internal journeys, following her heart down paths of romantic fulfillment and dejection.
Gardot is backed by plenty of lush strings, plus such heavyweights as drummer Peter Erskine and, on select tracks, keyboardist Larry Goldings. But her principal guide and companion on this variegated voyage of discovery is Heitor Pereira, onetime guitarist for Simply Red and celebrated film composer (whose cinematic achievements extend from The Smurfs to The Dark Knight). It’s tempting to compare him to countryman Luiz Bonfá. His playing is as deeply passionate and intimate, his hues as rich and captivating; but Pereira’s palette is wider, which serves Gardot exceptionally well.
Though her fairy-wing fragility remains essential to her unique appeal, propelling “So We Meet Again My Heartache,” “So Long” and “Lisboa,” she has significantly broadened her ambit. Particularly fascinating are the gothic furtiveness of her “Goodbye” and her embodiment of a jaded, Eartha Kitt-esque seductress on “If I Tell You I Love You.” But Gardot and Pereira’s epic achievement is the vibrant denouement “Iemanja,” a joyous open-seas adventure.