TIMELESS Sergio Mendes
On Sergio Mendes's first album of new material in over a decade (1992's underrated Brasileiro was his last), there's a line in the title song that goes, "Kindness is timeless / Love is so easy."
It could double as a haiku-like description of the music that Mendes has made over the last fifty years. From bossa nova standards such as "Mas Que Nada" and "So Nice (Summer Samba)" to the Brasil '66 jet set arrangements of "Scarborough Fair" and "Norwegian Wood" to self-penned delicacies such as "So Many Stars" to '80s hits like "Never Gonna Let You Go," Mendes is all about the easy and the love. And there's no question that a good handful of his records have stood the test of time to become classics.
For his resurgence (or resergio-ence?), the Brazilian pianist is surrounded by over fifteen guests, including Q-tip, Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu and will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas (who also produced). In a more cynical light, it's tempting to see this as yet another Santana-type project. Take a talented veteran musician, add hip young stars, aim for FM Hot Hits playlists. But whereas Santana has become a sideman noodling on his own albums, Mendes exerts more of a shaping presence.
While I'm not convinced that hip-hop is a comfortable fit with Brazilian music (rapping over bossa nova is like working blue at a bar mitzvah), there's still enough interesting chemistry here to make it a welcome return for Mendes. Highlights include the giddy harmonica-vocal interplay on "Berimbau / Consolacao" between Stevie Wonder and Sergio's wife--and Brasil '66 member --Gracinha Leporace; the collaboration with John Legend on "Please Baby Don't," with Mendes providing a funky Rhodes-powered groove and the horns sparkling like beams of '70s soul sunshine; the catchy title tune with India.arie is the disc's best melding of old school melodies with new school beats; and "E Menina," the only track sans guests, makes you wish for a true Mendes solo record.
When I interviewed Mendes recently, he commented, "We had the idea that if we combined beautiful melodies with the contemporary beats and treatment, it would be something special. The kids would have something to relate to. It would be wonderful if kids could relate to 'Mas Que Nada' forty years later."
And if it leads them back to the original recordings, even better. Bill DeMain