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Gardot celebrates her favorite haunts on ‘Absence’

Jazz chanteuse Melody Gardot is touring behind her new album “The Absence.”

Jazz chanteuse Melody Gardot is touring behind her new album “The Absence.”

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♦ 8 p.m. Sept. 25

♦ Park West, 322 W. Armitage

♦ Tickets, $40

♦ (773) 929-1322;

Chanteuse Melody Gardot is of no fixed abode — she travels the world performing eleven months a year and then alights somewhere for a few weeks to recharge. Recently it was Lisbon, to which she pays homage with a song in Portuguese vernacular on her stunning new collection “The Absence” (Decca), a non-linear travelogue of her further journeying through South America and North Africa.

Hit by a car while cycling in 2003, Gardot suffered memory loss and spinal injuries and used music as a form of rehabilitation, finding, however, that she could not tolerate loud volumes. Her itinerant transcontinental existence and the hushed poetics of her voice infuse “The Absence” with a knowing restraint beyond her years. Deploying an ambitious cast of classical and jazz musicians, field recordings and other sound effects, producer Heitor Pereira has helped create a mysterious dreamscape for Gardot’s at once sardonic and confessional, then celebratory or cautionary pronouncements.

The Sun-Times caught up with Gardot, who performs at the Park West on Sept. 25, earlier this week.

Question:From whence do you arrive at such a name? It rolls off the tongue with more Gallic sophistication than Brigitte Bardot, yet you are from Philadelphia?

Melody Gardot: I was born in New Jersey but I did all my growing up in Philadelphia. I love the world with open arms and love the places that I have traveled to and I’ve spent lot of time exploring them. I love language. I think it is beautiful that when you cross an invisible line in the world — a border, it doesn’t really exist — you find that people change instantaneously. How they shift culturally, linguistically and in spirit — you know the spirit has a way of expressing itself differently under the sun in South America than it does in Portugal? I am in love with learning; I love to go and explore new places and discover the people there and embrace them in love.

Q. But then you have to leave and that’s when you are compelled to write valedictions like “Goodbye” and “So Long,” (from “Absence”).

MG: “So Long” is the image of a guy leaning on a boat. In Alfama in Lisbon there is a shipyard and they were constructing a new port when I was there. There are these gigantic “flotels” that come in with thousands of people. You’d see people waving good-bye to the tourist boats from the docks and all the time fado (melancholy traditional Portuguese music) echoing from the hills, and this impression is very beautiful.

Q. The cover to “Absence” depicts you languishing on shoreline rocks as waves crash around, all but naked, like a forlorn siren. Has the broad experience of your travels made you feel more at one with the world or just more sad at the short time we are allotted here?

MG: Ha! I look like a siren hurled against the rocks! Finally I felt confident to do this and show my body in this way. I love the form and curves of the female body and display of the body is much less inhibited in Brazil for instance, where you see people walking around in thongs in downtown Rio as if they were New Yorkers transported to a Palm Springs nudist colony.

Q.“So We Meet Again My Heartache,” is like the “Alas, poor Yorrick” moment from “Hamlet,” but it makes a literal division between head and heart, where the ailing heart is objectified, out of body. The song has an eerie autumnal graveyard setting; is it masochistic that the heartache is invited to return to its “ghoulish host.”

MG: It’s a beautiful surrender, the acceptance of the absence of the mind. The host can be the liquid I take into my body; the host can be the man I am with or the hostess. It’s the phantom of heartache that other people were feeling you have no control over.

It’s different from sadness, tristesse or saudade — the heartache was just a thing you didn’t know was coming, hanging around the corner. You turned and suddenly: Bam! Oh Man! If you are lucky enough, you find yourself near a bottle of something and you sit down and look at the bottom of the glass or the top to the liquid line and find in the meniscus somewhere between yourself and a grin. If the meniscus is smiling back at you, the shape takes a shape. This idea of finding yourself again. Needing that feeling you thought wasn’t around. But it’s like a haunting, a phantasm that comes back again.

Michael Jackson is a local free-lance writer.

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