[JPL] new Sergio Mendes CD

Tom Reney tr at wfcr.org
Mon Feb 13 12:08:22 EST 2006


After my puzzlement at seeing some excitement expressed over this Sergio Mendes recording on JPL last week, I was pleased to see Ben Ratliff confirming my sense that this is not a jazz CD.

 Sergio Mendes

It's not a bad idea for some central cog in American pop music to revisit the case of Sergio Mendes, who has probably sold more records in the United States than any other Brazilian musician in history. And Will Adams, a k a Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas, might even seem the right guy to do it, a hip-hop producer with a varied record collection and a feel for lighter grooves. 

Will.i.am is the overall shaper and intrusive presence in "Timeless," which attempts to do for Mr. Mendes what "Genius Loves Company" did for Ray Charles. But there's a basic difference. Ray Charles may have been as much of a mainstream popularizer as Mr. Mendes, but he was a bedrock, strong enough to build a frothy superstructure on. Sergio Mendes represents much more porous ground. 

A pianist from Rio de Janeiro, Mr. Mendes came to the United States in the 1960's and, on a string of records produced by Herb Alpert, manufactured English-language versions of bossa-nova songs, as well as bossa-nova versions of the Beatles, Burt Bacharach and soul hits. 

On "Timeless," his opportunity to connect with newer streams in pop, including dancehall and neo-R&B, Mr. Mendes plays keyboards throughout. But it is overwhelmingly Will.i.am's album: he plays bass, supplies drum programming and raps on most of the songs in a G-rated, early-hip-hop style, cheery but toothless. The shiny new beats in "Timeless" weaken the groove that existed in songs like "Mas Que Nada," "Berimbau" and "Surfboard" even before Mr. Mendes got to them 40 years ago. 

At the end, there are flashes of what could have been. "Loose Ends," over the drowsy old Mendes track "So Many Stars," takes a chance; it includes the New York rapper Pharoahe Monch, storytelling about the psychology of American soldiers in Iraq, and Justin Timberlake crooning the choruses. The deepest grooves are struck in "Fo'-Hop," with the guitarist and singer Guinga and the Brazilian rapper Marcelo D2. It's in a baião rhythm, sung in Portuguese, with the rapid swing of the original language, atmospheric guitar sounds and snarling rap passages. Finally, there's some there there. BEN RATLIFF

Tom Reney
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