"Every time I make a new album," states the legendary Brazilian maestro Sergio Mendes, "it's a new musical adventure." Over the course of a career that has amassed an astounding track record of 35-plus albums made and millions sold, Mendes has embarked on many adventures, highlighted by his early ‘60s Bossa Rio Sextet outings in Brazil, his worldwide breakthrough Brasil'66 group (and its many iterations), his 1992 Grammy-winning milestone Brasileiro and his brilliant 2006 outing on Concord Records, Timeless, a Brazilian music-meets-hip hop collaboration with Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am.
For his follow-up to 2008's Encanto, another "enchanted celebration" of the Brazilian songbook, Mendes returns with his refreshing and invigorating new Concord Records collection, Bom Tempo. The melodies are indelible, the explosive percussion is exciting, the harmony-laced singing exhilarates, and the arrangements exude both celebration and romance. "This is bom tempo music, good times music," says the Brazilian-born, U.S.-based producer- composer pianist-keyboardist-arranger- who sought to sum up the CD with a succinct Portuguese title. "It's all about the good times, good weather, good tempos. The album is about the diversity, joy and sensuality of Brazilian music-songs I previously recorded and some that I never have-played by Brazilian and American musicians."
While Bom Tempo showcases tunes from the crème de la crème of Brazilian songwriters (including Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto Gil, Joao Donato, Carlinhos Brown, Jorge Benjor, Milton Nascimento and Moacir Santos) and a song from his old friend Stevie Wonder, written especially for Mendes in 1977, the simmering "The Real Thing" (first recorded on Sergio Mendes and the New Brasil '77album).
"I think it's wonderful to see how young people all around the world appreciate Brazilian music" he says. "I wanted to create a collection of songs that are mostly up-tempo, fresh and danceable, so that young people can relate to. I wanted to reintroduce great Brazilian melodies in a different way and communicate with a new audience." Case in point: the Benjor Brazilian hit song, "Pais Tropical," with a rap interlude.
While many of Mendes' friends and long time collaborators are present on the album (including drummers Mike Shapiro and Vinnie Colaiuta, bassists Nathan Watts and Alphonso Johnson, guitarists Paul Jackson Jr. and Kleber Jorge, percussionist Gibi, vocalist Gracinha Leporace -the bandleader's wife-and songwriter-arranger-vocalist Carlinhos Brown, who was integral to the success of the Brasileiro album), newcomers are also in the mix.
Most prominent is Milton Nascimento, who contributes his own "Caxanga," a moody, mysterious children's song that he had only recorded once. He sings the lead vocal in his singular style and plays the acoustic guitar. "This is very special," says Mendes. "Even though we are more or less contemporaries, this is the first time we've worked together. Milton is one of my favorite Brazilian singer/composers, no doubt about it. Coincidentally, I went to a show Milton performed in Los Angeles, and we went out to dinner afterwards. I told him about the new record and how I'd love to have him be a part of it. The next day, he called me up and said, ‘Sergio, I have a surprise for you.' He brought this song in and it worked out perfectly."
Seu Jorge is one of the most promising, hot, new Brazilian singers (American audiences may be familiar with his acting debut in the Bill Murray film "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou"). "It has always been my pleasure to introduce new Brazilian talent in my albums, and we do have so many gifted artists in Brazil. Seu Jorge's participation brings the kind of freshness which has always been associated with my projects."
There are important new faces in Mendes' Bom Tempo. One of them is horn player Scott Mayo, who not only plays saxophones and woodwinds instruments, but also arranged the horn section for the tracks. "He brought tremendous energy to the project. He also invited some of his friends, including trombonist Andrew Lippman, and trumpeter Bill Churchville - they add so much color to the songs."
Mendes also had the pleasure of working with very talented guitarist Jack Majdecki. "He has been doing lead sheets for me for a long time, but this is the first time he has actually played with me - what a joy to work with him."
In addition, Mendes introduces to the party young and talented singers Katie Hampton (who has been in Mendes' band for the last 2 years) and Nayanna Holley, new band addition H2O, a rapper from Oakland, CA and Brazilian musician Mika Mutti, a great, original Brazilian Rhythm Designer, also from Bahia.
Bom Tempo opens with a spirited, chant-like take on the Gil/Donato
song "Emorio", featuring Holley and Brown on lead vocals. The latter contributes a funky rap that pays tribute to Brazil's songwriters. In the Afro-Brazilian mix are allusions to such Mendes' hits as "Mas Que Nada" and "The Frog."
The second track, another dance-oriented jewel, "Maracatu Atomico," was a first-time rendering, complete with a great horn section and percussive beat, based on the Afro-Brazilian maracatu rhythm.
Another song on the CD with the rhythm, "Maracatu (Nation of Love)" is a samba-infused beauty featuring a gorgeous Jorge/Leporace conversation-like duet and luminous horns. At the close of the song, in the fade, there is a duet by bassist Alphonso Johnson and Mendes, with scats by Seu Jorge, which Mendes jokingly calls "30-seconds of ear candy at the end." This maracatu song was composed by Moacir Santos, who also penned the romantic tune on the CD, "Orpheus (Quiet Carnival)," that Mendes and Leporace sing.
Moacir, says Mendes, was one of his mentors. "He lived in Rio and worked at the National Radio, "stated Mendes. "He always had a special way of writing and orchestrating. He had his own style. I took music lessons from him when I was 17, and he wrote some of the arrangements on my first Bossa Rio Sextet album, along with Antonio Carlos Jobim. He was one of the most prolific composer/arrangers of Brazilian music. Mendes considers Moacir "the Duke Ellington of Brazilian music."
On Bom Tempo, there are new interpretations of some Brazilian classics, including a fresh spin on "Ye-Me-Le", with a cool rap performed by new band member H2O and a remake of "Magalenha" (from Brasileiro) that features great steel guitar, rap and body percussion contributions from Brown. Says Mendes: "Carlinhos was in Los Angeles for two weeks, so we decided to work on a new, special version of the song he wrote. I said, let's do a 2010 version that not only exhibits great Brazilian music but also pays tribute to the World Cup games this year. Because those soccer games will be played in Cape Town, South Africa, I had the idea of using some Zulu words as part of the song."
New additions to the Mendes recording songbook on Bom Tempo include a brand-new Brown composition, the grooved, romantic "You and I," sung in English by the songwriter and Holley; and two Jobim gems featuring Leporace: the soothing "Caminhos Cruzados," with a cool and minimalist quartet (Mendes, Johnson, Shapiro and Majdecki) playing in an intimate setting, and "Só Tinha De Ser Com Voce," a swinging uptempo piece. "Jobim was another mentor and a dear friend to me," says Mendes. "On "So Tinha..." Scott arranged the horns to have an infectious, Carnaval-like feel.
Proud of his Brazilian heritage and aware of the magic and seduction of his homeland's music, which keeps attracting young audiences through the years, all over the world, Mendes notes "It started with Jobim, being played by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd with Astrud and Joao Gilberto; then it was myself with Cannonball Adderley; Ron Carter, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald recording with Jobim, and later David Byrne putting those compilation albums of a variety of Brazilian musicians playing all kinds of styles. He adds, "More recently (with Timeless and Encanto) the attraction continues, with will.i.am , John Legend, India.Arie, Fergie, and so many more, who love the music so much and were instrumental in helping to expose it to people in their audience. Even for Bom Tempo, when I met the 20-year-old DJ guys Bimbo Jones in London, they were totally into watching YouTube videos of Brasil '66. It just goes to show you that Brazilian music has a universal appeal and it IS timeless... " And so is Sergio Mendes.