Review: Mendes spreads joy of Brazil's music

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Posted: Sep 16, 2014 10:51 AM
Review: Mendes spreads joy of Brazil's music

Sergio Mendes, "Magic" (Okeh)

Sergio Mendes continues his mission of spreading the joy of Brazilian music to a global audience on new album "Magic."

That mission began nearly 50 years ago when he helped merge bossa nova with jazz and enjoyed commercial success with Brasil '66's bossa nova-flavored arrangements of pop tunes. Now, at 73, Mendes doesn't indulge in nostalgia, instead offering mostly new songs that he wrote or co-wrote, blending contemporary styles with Brazilian rhythms in sometimes unexpected collaborations with musicians from different genres.

The album opens and closes with two exuberant sambas that reunite Mendes, John Powell and Carlinhos Brown, who collaborated on the music for the animated "Rio" films. "Simbora (Let's Go)" and "One Nation," also on the official FIFA World Cup album, are both guaranteed to get the body moving.

The Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am, who recorded a hip-hop version of Brasil '66's breakthrough hit "Mas Que Nada" with Mendes in 2006, produced the funky "My, My, My, My Love," mixing electronic percussion with Mendes' hard-driving acoustic piano. John Legend contributes his own sensuous lyrics and smooth R&B vocals on "Don't Say Goodbye" over Mendes' bossa arrangement, while Janelle Monae easily adapts to bossa with some airy vocals on "Visions of You."

But "Magic" above all spotlights emerging and established Brazilian artists, including Mendes' wife, singer Gracinha Leporace, featured on Toninho Horta's "When I Fell in Love," a percussive tribute to Brazil's African-influenced Bahia state.

Milton Nascimento's trademark falsetto can be heard on his playful tune, "Olha a Rua," while gravel-voiced Seu Jorge sings/speaks his way through the samba "Sou Eu" composed by Mendes' mentor Moacir Santos. Ana Carolina sings the ethereal ballad "Atlantica," engaging in a tender vocal duet with Mendes, sensitively accompanied by the song's composer, the master guitarist Guinga. The younger generation is represented by Maria Gadu, who co-wrote "Meu Rio" with Mendes, on which her powerful dusky vocals build to a rollicking climax.

Mendes wears many hats here — as a pianist, vocalist, composer, bandleader and producer — yet magically weaves this eclectic mix together as he enjoys a late-career revival.