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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Roots Maneuver
Reviewed: Sergio Mendes' Encanto

By Alfredo Flores Posted: June 4, 2008 Washington City Paper
Photo credit Randee St. Nicholas
Sergio Mendes

On Nov. 21, 1962, pianist Sergio Mendes helped introduce bossa nova to the United States, playing Carnegie Hall with an all-star lineup of fellow Brazilians like João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Carlos Lyra. The infectious mix of samba, pop, and jazz soon became a staple in bachelor pads and on the stereos of jazz aficionados, and as its popularity in America grew, Mendes settled in Los Angeles. There, he furthered the genre with his band Brasil '66 and collaborated with Cannonball Adderley and Herbie Mann. But the genre's popularity fizzled out in the '80s, and by 2002, Mendes had gone a decade without recording an album when the Black Eyed Peas' requested a meeting. Their collaboration, 2006's Timeless, revamped the genre with the help of guests Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, and Justin Timberlake. His new album, Encanto, is another collaboration with, but it has a more traditional feel—unlike Timeless, which alienated older Mendes fans thanks to's hype-man work on half the tracks. It's clear that Mendes wanted to get back to his roots: The new album was mostly recorded in Bahia, Brazil, and Mendes' hometown of Rio de Janeiro, and it includes a duet with original Brasil '66 vocalist Lani Hall on the soft-jazz love song "Dreamer," which also features Mendes on vocals, Rhodes electric piano, and acoustic piano., for his part, restrains himself to just three of the album's 12 tracks. But his sharp drum programming and rapping boost a remake of a Mendes staple, Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "The Look of Love," as do Fergie's vocals and Paul Jackson Jr.'s acoustic and electric guitar, with Mendes controlling the tempo on the Rhodes. Mendes moves to clavinet on the party jam "Funky Bahia," which, as the title suggests, neatly combines funk and tropical sounds from the coastal state, particularly the heavy percussion and smooth chanting chorus. Jobim's "Somewhere in the Hills," popularized by Ella Fitzgerald in 1981, gets another remake, this time with Natalie Cole scatting and a fine fluegelhorn solo by Till Brönner. Much like Timeless, the new album is loaded with guest performers, the most interesting of which is Italian MC Jovanotti—riding the catchy swing beat of "Lugar Comum," his spitfire lyrics flow well with Mendes' piano chords and the soft sizzle of Mike Shapiro's drumming. Less successful is Latin pop-rock megastar Juanes, who tackles "Y Vamos Ya (…Let's Go),"despite having his vocals drowned out by flute, guitar, bass, drums, and a whopping five percussionists. But it's hard to argue with Mendes' overall strategy: Encanto's mix of hip-hop, tropical grooves, and classic remakes should keep Mendes' fans, old and new, happy all summer.

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