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Gabriela Anders

Growing up in one of Buenos Aires’ most musical households, under the tutelage of her celebrated saxophonist father, Jorge, vocalist/guitarist Gabriela Anders figures she was the only kid in school who knew who Miles Davis was. “All my friends would be listening to whatever pop or rock bands were popular at the time,” she recalls with an infectious giggle, “and I couldn’t believe they could like things that were so harmonically easy. I’d say, ‘Are you crazy? This isn’t interesting at all!’ and they’d look at me like I was some sort of Martian.”

Perhaps those childhood chums were right. With three well-received discs under her belt—her sizzling 1999 debut Wanting, followed by the Brazilian-themed Eclectica and the all-Spanish Latina—the smoldering 34-year-old recently completed her first Stateside album, the enticingly otherworldly Last Tango in Rio, an eclectic blend of musical influences that simultaneously evoke vintage Rita Hayworth-esque smokiness and forward-thinking, techno-pop jazziness. “That’s exactly what I wanted to achieve,” says Anders over the phone from her adopted hometown of New York, “to make it kinda retro but kinda crazily contemporary, too. I wanted to make it very cosmopolitan. It’s a take on some of the American standards that Billie Holiday sang [“God Bless the Child,” “Body and Soul” and “You Go to My Head” among them] done in a very South American way, with tango influences from Argentina and the rhythmic guitars of Brazilian music.”

Though six of the album’s 10 tracks are self-penned, the four Holiday-inspired tracks mark Anders’ first serious foray into nonoriginal material. “I won’t,” she insists, “do a cover unless it is really, really different. I would feel stupid trying to do a Billie Holiday song exactly the way she did it. There is no way I could do it better because she broke the mold on everything. So they’re different from hers out of respect. I couldn’t add anything to the way she originally did them, but can add a bit of the South American thing and get my improvising jazz thing going.”

As for the half-dozen original compositions, she says, “the challenge was to write the rest of the CD around this Billie Holiday vibe. It was interesting to me, because the covers took me, in my writing, to an entire new place. I feel something new opened up in me as a musician. We all grow over time, but with this I feel there was a big, big jump.”

Originally Published