Sergio Mendes was responsible for popularizing the bossa nova movement in the US back in the sixties, playing countless concerts with American jazz legends (Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Mann) and his own band Brasil '66. His cover of Jorge Ben's "Mas Que Nada" is common property: the older folks remember the bossa version off Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66, the younger generation knows it thanks to Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas. He produced Sergio's Grammy-winning comeback album Timeless two years ago, and was behind the controls again for the follow-up Encanto, out June 10th.
To be honest I was very sceptic about reviewing Encanto, I expected it to be much like Timeless which I found too focused on the hiphop crossover market, lacking the latin soul I search for. The fact that the album is distributed through Starbucks even added to the smell of commercialism.
But Sergio proved me wrong. The music is as sunny, colorful and sexy as the album cover (below). Encanto is a carefully selected collection of covers that got the Mendes treatment - jazzify, synthify, add suitable guest vocal. The result is an album overflowing with simple, happy, richly arranged tunes that will enlight your summer.
One of those legendary covers is "The Look of Love" by Burt Bacharach. Here is the original hit from 1967. Revamped with Fergie on the vocals, the song is stripped from its cheesy soundtrack strings, given a contemporary beat and a different chorus. The result is a completely different song, minimalistic and charming, blending in wonderfully with the rest of the album. Too bad Fergie is so prominent on the song - her voice leaves me completely indifferent.
But let's focus on the latino elements here - you'll hear the other songs more than enough I imagine. "Y Vamos Ya" forced me to lift the Juanes ban that reigns at Casa Chapín since the release of La Vida Es... Un Ratico. But after one listen that ban was back in force - Juanes totally ignores the whole point of the album by engaging in sentimalist whining ("Pajaritos van cantando a tu lado"... please!).
The other latino flavored collaborations are more worth while. "Lugar Comum" switches between Jovanotti's Italian raps and a soulful chorus of Brazilian girls. "Morning in Rio" and "Odo-Ya" (with the immensely popular Carlinhos Brown) make me feel like joining a carnival parade in the streets of Rio. "Catavento" (with his wife Gracinha Leporace on the vocals) is great for chilling out. If you don't mind the constant cuica sound (a.k.a. the "laughing gourd") that is. "Acode" (with Vanessa Da Mata doubts between gently samba drums and a pulsating dance beat. Also a great example of the guitar-piano interaction you'll often hear on the album. The album ends with "Agua De Beber", with Will.I.Am excelling in empty lyrics and Sergio making it all up with his inventive piano and synth arrangements - I always love it when jazz singers ad lib to the melody.
So Encanto has its heights and lows for the latin music lover, but it's certainly worth checking out as a whole, thanks to the sunny sound and Brazilian feeling of the album.
Sergio Mendes ft. Carlinhos Brown - Odo-Ya
Sergio Mendes ft. Gracinha Leporace - Catavento
Album: Encanto (Concord)