September 30, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66

When I was in sixth grade I purchased with my own money two records, The Monkees and Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66. It was 1978 and my neighborhood --if Halloween was any indication-- was crawling with Kiss fans. The Cal Jam II festival at the Ontario Motor Speedway with its stunning line up including Aerosmith, Heart and Ted Nugent was all any of the kids in southern California was talking about -- at least anyone I was likely to talk to. Of course, they almost immediately tore the Ontario Motor Speedway out and turned it into an ugly empty lot that eventually gave way to a shopping extravaganza. You get the picture. I was out of step, even then.

So, it was 1978. Sergio was hardly on anyone's radar besides mine. And my radar was backdated a decade or so. I bought the record because I thought the people on the cover looked cool. And they did. Look cool. But, unbeknownst to me then, they sounded a hell of a lot cooler than they looked. Time went on, the album sat around unlistened to, mostly. I finally dug it out again a few years later when I was getting into the mod scene and desperately trying to get a handle on what a cool, suit wearing guy from the sixties looked like. Strangely enough, for me, Sergio Mendes was that guy (oh yeah, and Dick Van Dyke, but that's another blog post altogether). I could have done a lot worse.

As a young teen in Rio, Mendes cut his teeth in the music conservatory on classical music but threw it over early on for jazz, thanks to time with the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto, and then later meeting and sitting in listening to American jazz giants such as Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Byrd, and Roy Eldridge. Mendes quickly made his way to New York with his eyes on being a jazz man. He hit paydirt fairly quickly by today's standards after only a few years of playing around town in the early 60s. In 1966 he put together his second lineup, called Brasil '66, that included the magic element -- two female vocalists: the golden voices of Lani Hall (not much later the wife of Herb Alpert), and Janis Hansen. The group was an instant hit. They blended bossa nova with elements of jazz and soul, and mostly soft sixties pop sounds. The combination was a huge hit with American listeners and helped to make bossa nova a household name across the US. The first album went to #6 on the charts, largely on the success of "Mas Que Nada".

Following that the band climbed to even higher heights with the Burt Bacharach/Hal David penned "The Look of Love" which they performed on the Academy Awards telecast -- and won the Oscar for the song.

Sergio Mendes was a household name by the early 70s. Mendes' sound grew more jazzy and big band oriented over the years and Brasil 66 became Brasil 77 and other such stunts. But through it all Mendes kept plying the jazz waters with his bossa nova boats. He had some hits in the 80s and he won a grammy in 1992 about the time that he started incorporating more of a world music flavor into his sound. And more recently he has partnered with The Black Eyed Peas for an updated hip-hop (sort of) version of "Mas Que Nada', and continues to tour. I saw him a couple years ago with his latest lineup and he was as good then as he's ever been.

The songs here are exemplary of Mendes most popular work, from his sixties songbook. "Look of Love" and "Look Around" are classics to be sure, but these songs, the very boss "Bim Bom" and the groovy "After Midnight", capture the quintessential, swinginest sound of the swinger from Rio. Sergio Mendes will always be synonymous with mod to me.
Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 -- After Midnight

Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 -- Bim Bom